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The Barber of Sevillinois
I came to this film via Karina Longworth's excellent podcast series "You Must Remember This" which I recommend to one and all. She did a mini-series on the women in the life of Howard Hughes and where this movie figures on this is because of course, main female lead Jean Peters was for many years Mrs Howard Hughes. Although not betrothed to the billionaire at the time of the film's release, she was already in the background as one of his pet starlet-girlfriends. Other than that however, Hughes had nothing to do with this particular movie but egged on by Ms Longworth's warning of a major plot twist halfway through the film, I duly tracked it down.
Taking its title from a popular song from the late 19th Century, which you hear frequently during its running time, the film certainly isn't the light-hearted, frothy musical you might have expected, although it starts a bit like that as we meet young David Wayne's Ben Halper character, a gentleman's barber to trade and his pretty young wife, Nellie, played by Peters. Newly-wed, she thinks he's taking them to an exciting new life in bustling Chicago, but no, the more practical and parochial Wayne has decided to set up both his business and family home in the small town of Sevillinois.
This doesn't go well with the ambitious Nellie even as she assures Wayne of her love and duly bears him a son and daughter, so that it's not long before she's attracting the attention of flash-harry married man-about-town Ed Jordan. Meanwhile, hubby further entrenches himself in the community by joining both the local band and when the First World War comes around, the town's army battalion. Then, while he's away from home, Nellie and Jordan decide to take a fateful train journey together to the big smoke of Chicago, where they both feel they belong.
What happens next is that unexpected plot shift which I can say no more about without getting into spoiler territory, but what I will say is that the film ends up as an up-and-down fifty-year biography of a little man who pays the price for not considering the dreams and ambitions of those he loves but still comes across as an agreeable and believable human being, just an ordinary average, play-safe kind of guy.
Unusually for a B-movie, with cast to match, it's shot in a very dark-hued technicolour rather than cheaper black and white and is directed by the worthy Henry King. Wayne does a good job carrying the narrative on his shoulders from start to finish, ageing considerably as he goes and Peters makes a big impression too as his starry-eyed wife. Clearly Wayne hasn't heard the old phrase, "Happy wife, happy life" and pays the price for his own selfishness. He's not a bad man, he just thinks he's always right and is obviously a slow learner from his experiences as we later see in his testy relationship with his grown-up son.
Director King keeps the story moving from one major event to the next in Wayne's long life, taking in drama and tragedy by turn, even culminating in a good old fashioned Chicago gangster shoot-out, which reminded me of the old Tyrone Power-starring feature "In Old Chicago" which King helmed several years before.
It's always good to find a watchable old movie you've never heard of before and so it was here. This isn't the first vintage movie I've viewed on Ms Longworth's recommendation and on the evidence here, it won't be the last.
Johnny Come Lately
This was made the same year that the infamous "Box Office Poison" list was compiled of unbankable Hollywood stars with Katharine Hepburn's name prominent amongst them and I have to say, watching this particular movie, I think I can see why. She skewers the film off-kilter with a very shrill and mannered performance as Linda Seton, the rebellious, free-spirited daughter of her banking magnate father living in pop's massive, multi-storeyed mansion complete with its own elevator and coterie of household staff.
She's also the sister of more dutiful daddy's girl Doris Nolan, in just about her only major Hollywood role, who brings into the household her new fiancé, enterprising, devil-may-care Johnny Case, charismatically played by Cary Grant and the film becomes a tug-of-love between the sisters for the unblemished soul of young Johnny. Nolan's Julia wants Johnny to buckle down to her controlling father's meticulous plans for him, the better to keep her in her current life of luxury whereas Linda is immediately attracted to his self-made man status and independent thinking.
Who wins him in the end, well that's fairly obvious from the star billing, but while Grant charms with his carefree acrobatics and down-to-earth persona which extends to his choice of friends, the grounded and supportive Edward Everett Horton and June Dixon, you can see Hepburn too often click into action with her best "calla-lilies" voice and faraway eyes the minute her favourite director George Cukor rewards her with yet another close-up. She looks lovely but her performance here I'm afraid is way too theatrical and unnatural for my taste.
That's the other problem for me too, in that the film too obviously betrays its origins as a stage play. Much of the dialogue is a little too well-mannered and polite to the point of seeming unrealistic which only served to further distance me from the action. I liked Lew Ayres as Hepburn and Nolan's boozy brother who long ago surrendered to the bottle his own resistance to his father's meticulous plans for conformity and social advancement but who can still see straight enough to support Linda's climactic rebellion.
I loved Hepburn and Grant together in the same year's brilliant screwball comedy "Bringing Up Baby" under the dynamic direction of Howard Hawks, but this seems much more sedate and conventional fare in comparison. In fact asked to chose which film she'd rather be in, I reckon Hepburn's own Linda character here would chose "Baby" over this and she'd be dead right.
Wisting: Episode #1.5 (2019)
Snow well, snow well
As others have said, this new Nordic-noir of ten episodes breaks down into two five part stories, so my review here is of the first five.
There's very little difference here to other shows like this which I've watched, by which I mean you get the central cop trying to do his or her job overloaded with personal, usually family-related issues. Naturally being set in a Scandinavian country too, there are lots of shots of bleak, wintry locations often with drone shots from on high.
So far, so predictable. The chief cop in question, Wisting is a widower with a crusading journalist daughter who looks for police favours to help her in her job as well as a younger son who lives and works abroad. Father and daughter don't really get along but it's Christmas time and the son has returned to try and heal the breaches in the family especially between father and daughter. If you really think he's going to succeed in this then you clearly haven't seen many of these series before.
Another common point I frequently take issue with in these shows are the ridiculous coincidences the viewer is expected to accept as the story unfolds. What starts out as two separate stories, one the father's case of an American serial-killer who has now popped up in Norway and is raping and disposing of young blonde women down wells which apparently proliferate every farm in the country, the second, the daughter's newspaper story of a lonely neighbour who apparently died alone in his chair and wasn't discovered for days. What are the chances do you think of these two plot-strands interconnecting further down the line?
Then there are the two U.S. F.B.I. Agents who come to town to assist in the serial killer's capture. What are the chances do you think of the young black detective having a one night stand with Wisting's daughter as she pursues a lead in her story?
Last but by no means least, when the daughter's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, what are the chances do you think of the car behind her being driven by the serial killer himself who promptly attempts to make her his next victim?
I think you see where I'm going with this. Obviously I found the plotting too haphazard to convince and the settings and characterisations just too stereotypical into the bargain. The acting too was just so-so and I always hate it when a subtitled show drops the dialogue the second anyone talks English. I didn't find Inspector Wisting to exhibit any great charisma or inspire much sympathy or interest on my part either, making me wonder why they named the show after him.
I'll watch the next batch of five, although the reviews I see here indicate I perhaps needn't bother.. I would hope future episodes are more tightly scripted but this particular import seemed more like noir-by-numbers to me.
Love amongst the ruins
Not your typical Douglas Sirk subject matter here, at least on the face of it. Based on a book by celebrated novelist Erich Maria Remarque, best known for "All Quiet On The Western Front", it uncommonly takes as its subject a German soldier granted leave from the Russian Front.
The film commences with three almost immediately jolting scenes, firstly when the German regiment now retreating surrendered territory in the dead of winter, come across a hand protruding from the frozen ice and then learn it belongs to a former colleague. Soon afterwards, we see members of the same troop "volunteered" to execute by firing squad four Russian civilians, one of them a woman, after first making them dig their own graves. This proves to be too much for the already shredded nerves of one of the young participants, who soon afterwards takes his own life. All this in the first 20 minutes.
After that however it does settle to recognisable Sirk territory as the story concentrates on young German soldier John Gavin, who to his own surprise is granted a furlough which he uses to try to return to his parents' house only to find they have left and the house itself is now bombed to the ground. What's immediately apparent once he's back home is the town civilians' complete indifference to the returning front-line soldier. No hero to them, indeed he's accused of having it easy compared to the almost daily Allied bombing barrage they're enduring.
One plus for him however is that in his search he meets and quickly falls in love with the pretty daughter of his parents' doctor. They decide to marry and to complete their happiness all they need to do it seems is find their respective sets of parents, see out the war and live happily ever after, but remembering the M.O.'s of both Sirk and Remarque, plus there's a big clue in the film title, their stories don't end happily and in fact the climax is a shockingly brutal moment reminiscent of those initial three scenes. Thus the film rams home its point about the futility of war effectively making the point that almost nothing good can come from it.
Master cinematographer Russell Metty, under Sirk's direction, shows himself equally capable of filming war-weary soldiers, battlefields and ruined houses as rich socialites in their grand houses in the United States. That said, it is disconcerting to hear everyone, Germans and Russians alike, speaking in crystal-clear American accents.
Leads John Gavin and Liselotte Pulver make for an attractive couple whose love story blossoms against the odds and there's a notable appearance by author Remarque himself in a prominent part as a dissenting doctor. Gavin is obviously playing the type of role that Rock Hudson would normally fulfil for Sirk, but I can understand, for reasons of veracity and credibility, why the lesser-known Gavin got the part, although his inexperience does I think show through at times.
This is a film where Sirk, more famous for his lush romantic contemporary melodramas gets his hands somewhat dirtier. There's earthy barrack-room humour amongst the serving soldiers, extreme cruelty as demonstrated by the drunken piano-playing Gestapo commandant describing his layer-cake method of mass-killing, depictions of prostitutes and call girls and in that final sequence, blind patriotism which in time of war, ruthlessly fails to acknowledge a life-saving kindness granted to it.
A bleak but powerful film then, with a strong anti-war message, effectively but still stylishly directed by Sirk, the better for setting its main characters on the other side of the divide.
Give My Regrets To Broad Street
I'm a lifelong Paul McCartney fan but it's taken me this long to steel myself to finally watch this justly maligned vanity project of a movie wot he wrote. To say it might have been written on the back of an envelope is to overstate proceedings, try the back of a stamp.
McCartney has to deliver his next album on time or else his parent record company will fall into the ownership of a big bad businessman who wanders about everywhere scowling in shades just so you know that this is somehow not a good thing. At the last minute, the master tape goes missing. Last person to hold it was newly employed gopher Harry, who big-hearted Paul has just lately employed despite having a history of petty crime. For some reason the tape has to be found before midnight so that Macca, in the middle of a busy day making a promo video, being interviewed at the BBC and recording songs, tries to locate the missing Harry and save the day.
Basically just a loosely connected travelogue in and around London with lots of McCartney music interspersed in between, it's one long yawn from start to finish. The musical numbers are mostly misconceived, as we see Paul trying to elevate some of his fair-to-middling recent material ("Ballroom Dancing", "So Bad" and especially "Wanderlust" which is inexplicably and unworthily tacked on to the end of a medley featuring "Yesterday" and "Here There And Everywhere") to the level of his illustrious Beatles past. It also just seems a sign of desperation that he felt the need to raid his Fab back catalogue for other songs too.
Worst moments, of many, for me were the Flock Of Seagulls mock-up for a robotic version of "Silly Love Songs" (don't ask), or an extended dream sequence which sees our hero got up in mutton chops and period costume (I said don't ask) to an instrumental version of "Eleanor Rigby". The little bit of new music we do get is actually okay, two knockabout rockers "No Values" and "Not Such A Bad Boy" and the strong power-ballad "No More Lonely Nights" which is promptly ruined by a voguish dance-mix over the end titles.
Elsewhere the cast includes such incongruities as Sir Ralph Richardson, Tracey Ullman and U.K. wrestler Giant Haystacks all with a few meagre lines which amply demonstrate in wide-apart descending order, the differences in their respective acting capabilities. McCartney himself tries to project his chipper, fab-wacky-Macca-thumbs-aloft demeanour and finds roles for wife Linda and old mate Ringo and his wife Barbara Bach but it's not just that you can see them all acting, you can actually see them all trying to act.
It's well seen that apart from a cameo in one of the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" movies, the only time you ever saw McCartney in front of a video camera after this was for one of his pop promos. This however was 100 minutes or so of absolute tedium which should have stayed as a home movie.
The Desperate Hours (1955)
Men About The House
A tough, tense thriller revolving around the simple plot of three dangerous escaped convicts randomly selecting the house of an everyday Indianapolis suburban family to hole up in until they receive some money from an outside girlfriend to complete their escape. In fact the plot reminded me greatly of that used the previous year in a change-of-pace Sinatra film called "Suddenly" where a bunch of bad guys violently take over the household of a single mum, her dad and son, with Sinatra playing the bad guy.
Here Bogart boldly steps back for the first time in many years to the role of a ruthless murderer and he's on the run along with his better looking, more humane younger brother and a hulking, dim-witted cellmate. Right from the start they happily terrorise Fredric March, his wife and two children, one a young adult woman the other a primary school boy. They look like a slightly mismatched family with their disparate ages, March in particular seeming old enough to be his son's grandfather but once you accept this, you can settle down to a gritty drama, well acted by the principals and expertly directed by the reliable William Wyler.
The interaction between the down-at-heel lawless gangsters and well-to-do happy family is realistically rendered with different tensions playing out among them. Bogart and March lock horns throughout with Bogie forever referring to the wheels tick-tick-ticking over in Fred's scheming mind. Then there's a hint of sexual tension between the younger renegade brother and the pretty daughter of the house while the young brat as Bogart calls him also makes himself a pest to the interlopers.
Director Wyler keeps the tension up all the way through, keeping the use of incidental music to a minimum, extracting naturalistic-seeming acting from his cast, while probably toning down some of the violence you'd expect in such a situation, the better to pass the prevailing production code. Instead the malicious intent of the crooks is conveyed as much with threats more than deeds, although there is one ruthless murder carried out on a hapless garbage truck driver.
Bogart attacks his part with relish and finds a good counterpoint to his desperate but scheming character in the protective and resourceful March. Although the menfolk dominate the action the women are no shrinking violets either while the young son of the house doesn't lack moxy either. Robert Middleton stands out from the rest of a capable cast with his portrayal as the slow-witted, hair-trigger brute Bogart struggles to control.
A gripping and compelling take on a stock situation set up dramatically but credibly, brought vividly to life by its worthy cast and director.
Catweazle's a jolly good fellow
When I think of the TV shows I loved as a kid that seem to have disappeared into the ether of television limbo such as many episodes of Patrick Troughton's Dr Who, series one and two of "Ace Of Wands" and the whole of "The Flaxton Boys", it seems almost like magic that from around the same time, the two series, each comprising thirteen episodes of Richard Carpenter's creation of Catweazle can be tracked down and watched. I can well remember watching it on Sundays at teatime and have just finished watching the last episode of Series One. I'm happy to say it holds up really well today, a testament to Carpenter's skilful writing and Geoffrey Bayldon's enchanting performance in the title role. Catweazle of course was the Anglo Saxon wizard who to escape pursuing Norman soldiers cast a spell on himself which threw him 900 years into the future. There he meets and forms a dependant, if sometimes prickly friendship with a teenage boy, nicknamed "Carrot" whose father's farmhouse now stands on the spot of his old dwelling.
Just about the only spell of Catweazle to work in the modern day is that of hypnosis which he casts on young Carrot to never reveal his identity to others and to occasionally make himself invisible to certain people, such as farmhand George, who he's regularly around. Catweazle's only aim is to get himself back to his own time but until he finds the right spell to do this there's plenty of time for he and Carrot to have many misadventures out in the countryside where the boy and his recently widowed dad live.
Clad only in a raggedy old gown and sporting tousled long hair and grizzled beard, Catweazle was a terrific creation, brought to life wonderfully by Bayldon who, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, immerses himself totally in the part to create one of British children's TV's most original and lovable characters. Much of the fun comes from old Cat becoming acquainted with modern inventions such as the motor car, camera, telephone (or telling-bone as he amusingly terms it) and even the simple light bulb or the sun in a bottle to his disbelieving eyes. There's a nice chemistry between the old magician and his schoolboy chum, winningly played by young Robin Davies and the rest of the adult cast perform in performances notably lacking condescension. Guest stars throughout this run included well-known British actors like Hattie Jacques, Peter Sallis, John Junkin and Patricia Hayes and it's fair to say none of them got the better of the displaced old boy.
Topped off with a bright and breezy theme tune, it's a really lovely series the likes of which they certainly don't make anymore and I'm now looking forward to moving onto series two.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Two for the road
I've recently been listening to Elvis's NBC TV Special soundtrack where he famously commented between songs that his trademark lip-curl alone got him through all 27 of the films to which Colonel Parker signed him up. Old El wasn't far wrong I reckon and in fact of the few I remember seeing the only one I really liked was King Creole which had a gritty storyline and required him to act but most of the rest simply saw him romance a pretty girl to a soundtrack of fairly mediocre songs in exotic settings. I doubt I'll be getting acquainted with many of the rest of them anytime soon but I decided to watch this feature for some light relief and because I personally love Las Vegas the place, Ann Margret promised to make for a vivacious co-star and I happen to like the theme song written by the great Leiber and Stoller team.
As a movie though it's a bit of a curate's egg. It's directed by industry veteran George Sidney who knew how to shoot a musical and there's certainly some verve and style in his camerawork. The plentiful exterior location shots well highlight the old Vegas before it expanded exponentially to take in the famous neon-lit strip and multi storey hotels we know today and he certainly captures the singing and dancing energy of both his attractive stars, with unusually for a Presley film, the leading lady getting to perform two solo musical numbers of her own. There's even a genuinely exciting and on the face of it not always death-defying sports car race conclusion.
However against that the plot is absolute hokum, Elvis's acting is frequently sub-standard, especially one extended scene where he plays a sort of gooseberry waiter to Ann Margret and the rich European driver who naturally is his rival both for the girl and the race. There are also some terrible back-projection shots with the couple artificially posed in a helicopter and especially when they're water-skiing together never mind when Elvis and rival Cesare Danova are having their head-to-head out on the road. Also being an early 60's movie, in the first half of the film, we unsurprisingly get lots of rather blatantly sexist shots of Miss Margret's derrière which make for cringeworthy viewing today.
The ending seems very rushed too, with no reference made to the fact that there must have been at least one major fatality in the race, from the look of things one of them almost certainly being Danova, but it seems so long as Elvis wins the race and gets the girl, all's well that ends well.
Like I said then, a curious film, very mixed in quality but doubtless better than the majority of the King's Hollywood output.
The Irishman (2019)
A Farewell To Arms
I'm reasonably familiar with Frank Sheeran's story having some time ago read the book on which it was based. I suppose if anyone was ever going to film it, it would have to be Scorsese. He assembles his age-no-object three acting principals De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, using the new de-ageing technology to literally take years off their physical appearance and once you stop looking for the join in this, it's possible to settle down and enjoy this engrossing movie centring on Sheeran's life which saw him become the New York Mafia's main hit-man and along the way become the friend and confidante of the powerful but controversial Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa, whose sudden disappearance and almost certain murder in 1975 makes for the inevitable climax to proceedings here.
At three and a half hours long, I don't mind admitting it took me two nights to get through it, but Sheeran had a long life living and killing and it was never likely that Scorsese was going to telescope it into a two hour film.
Scorsese of course has made some of the most iconic gangster movies of the last forty years usually with DeNiro and Pesci on board and clearly this is his goodbye to the genre for which he'll principally be remembered. That obviously also goes for DeNiro and Pesci too, as well of course for Pacino who's certainly added to the genre in his long career too.
The framing device for the narrative is an innocuous-seeming journey involving DeNiro's Sheeran and Pesci's Russell Bufalino characters taking a long drive to Detroit with their wives, the true purpose of which starts to become obvious as they progress. Through a series of intermittent flashbacks we get to see the story of Sheeran's recruitment as the Mafia's assassin, his rise up the ranks and along the way his introduction to Hoffa. There's a long epilogue where we see all the gangster bosses still living, Scorsese with subtitles having handily told us the date and usually violent means of death of the ones who didn't get that far, only by then they're all finally incarcerated and by the very end so aged and infirm that you wonder at the power and fear they once exerted.
Which of course is pretty much the point of the film. These dealers in death will themselves be reduced to ashes and for all their attempts to make peace with their God, you have to wonder at their minuscule chance of redemption in the next world, if there is one.
All of the big three do their bit to carry the load of the movie. De Niro as Sheeran is the blue, or should that be congealed blood biding the narrative together, Pacino largely reins in his sometimes hoo-hah acting style for who is the biggest character in the film while Pesci for me steals the accolades with a performance of almost avuncular menace in his part. It's significant that Sheeran's oldest daughter all through her growing life never takes to Pesci's Bufalino character as if even as a child she can sense the malevolence behind his kindly old man facade. Instead she and Hoffa become firm friends making the point that behind all his criminal abuse of power, he never killed or ordered the killing of anyone. The film is otherwise noticeable however for the almost invisibility of women in this man's, man's, man's world of criminal activity cloaked by a veneer of respectability.
I found Scorcese's direction to be commendably non-flashy with mostly conventional set-ups concentrating a lot on the faces of his actors. The period recreations of time and place are meticulous and authentic. I would however have liked to have seen more evidence of the background criminality as at times it just seems to be all about hierarchical or territorial jostling at the end of a gun, when behind it all fuelling the ill-gotten gains lurked prostitution, gun-running, drugs, protection and trafficking no doubt amongst many others.
I haven't always been a fan of Scorcese's big budget gang films like "The Departed" or "Gangs Of New York" but this one works for me as it seems less exaggerated in focus and is at pains not to glamorise these still despicable old-school gangsters. If it's to be his farewell to mob life, while it's certainly a long and largely unsympathetic one.
This is an entertaining if slightly confused Gothic melodrama with murderous overtones. The plotting owes a bit to the likes of recent hits of the day like "Wuthering Heights", "Rebecca" and "Jane Eyre" but sometimes does so a little too blatantly. It stars Gene Tierney as a young farmer's daughter who is surprised and delighted to get the call to be childminder for a wealthy distant cousin's daughter at his massive and luxurious castle abode. After a strict upbringing by her bible-thumping parents Walter Huston and Anne Revere, she's glad of the opportunity to see how the other half lives, plus unsurprisingly she's young, pretty and ready for love. It's not long however before she realises that the grass isn't always greener as her cousin Nicholas Van Ryn, played by Vincent Price, who she initially reveres, is obviously in a now loveless marriage with a hypochondriac wife who he has never forgiven for bearing him a daughter rather than a son to carry on the family name in the male succession.
She's also less than impressed when she sees him exerting an unsympathetic and unyielding authority over his tenants who are pressing him for the right to own the land they farm for him. Prominent amongst the dissenters is a handsome young doctor who quickly makes his romantic intentions known to Tierney at the same time as he incurs the ire of Price.
Things take a darker tone when Van Ryn's wife mysteriously dies coincidentally after he's just placed a large fragrant oleander plant into her room, supposedly to aid her recovery. Also, as so often in these types of stories, there's a supernatural element, with the spectral presence of Price's long-dead great grandmother Azilde, whose imposing portrait dominates the living room and whose eerie harpsichord playing is allegedly heard by members of the family as a harbinger of bad luck for the Van Rijns.
I enjoyed the atmospherics of the film but found the plot and character development somewhat confusing. Spring Byington for example plays a gossipy housemaid who promptly disappears halfway into the film, ditto the unwanted infant daughter with whom Tierney has started to bond. The attempt at social commentary over the plight of the dispossessed farmers, led by a bearded Harry Morgan, rather peters out too while Price's cruel baiting of the lame young Irish housemaid, played by a very young Jessica Tandy who becomes Tierney's loyal confidant, seems a bit overdone, at least to modern eyes and ears. As for Azilde's ghost, it doesn't play out as the phantom menace I was rather hoping for.
Price, who at this early stage in his long career hadn't yet located his ham bone, is the stand-out actor whose presence dominates the film after he's made his first appearance. Tierney isn't much more than simpering decoration but Glenn Langan makes a good impression as the rebellious doctor. Joseph L Manckiewicz first outing as director is stylish if a little stiff at times.
Still, if you enjoyed any of the prominent films mentioned earlier, this well-crafted if slightly underpowered feature makes for a good companion piece to any of them.
Daredevil: A New Napkin (2018)
Truth or Dare
And so Daredevil is no more as, soon after releasing this run to the public, Netflix promptly announced it was cancelling the show after this the third series. Yes, the series beautifully resolved all the intermingling plot strands while still leaving open the possibility of a new development right at the end but as per the official statement which accompanied the termination, over the course of 39 episodes it did feel like a complete story arc had been fulfilled. Yes, perhaps something more could have been made of the new Mrs Fisk and by extension of course her husband as well the recovered negative-Daredevil Ben Poindexter, but if it had to finish like this at least it did so on a high.
This series introduced some interesting and in some cases compelling new characters, not least the afore-mentioned Poindexter as the troubled FBI agent who, once trapped in Fisk's web, becomes his ruthless killing machine, his fellow FBI agent Ray Nadeem as the high-principled, family man whose ambition and pressing financial need for promotion ultimately leads to his undoing, a mysterious sister nun who takes Matt in after his last near-fatal beating and whose care we later learn extends beyond the normal nurse-patient concern as well as new family background members for both Foggy and Karen.
I counted at least three didn't-see-that-coming plot twists over the course of the narrative but in the end this was always going to end up in a face-off between Matt and Fisk in the final episode and so it proved. I could find very little to fault all the way through , perhaps only giving over almost a full episode to Karen's back-story or denying Agent Nadeem a better fate might have been my only qualms, but otherwise I was happy to follow the serpentine plotting, purposeful acting and action set-ups through all thirteen episodes. Interestingly and daringly (no pun intended), I don't remember Matt himself even once donning his famous maroon suit which only other bolstered the no doubt sought-for background realism and I was pleased that even if it was only the once Fisk was at last referred to as Kingpin and Daredevil referred to as the man without fear.
I don't follow the Daredevil Marvel comic and so don't know if the plotting here was a lift from one previously used in print, or an original, devised for this series, but I do know that this was probably the best comic-hero series I've seen and like I said, I do feel a bit sorry to be deprived of the future adventures of Matt, Foggy and Karen further down the road.
Play it again and again
Like all great art, "Casablanca" is a film that stands repeat viewings time after time, until you get to the point where you're saying whole lines of dialogue in lip-synch with the actors. I've just watched it again for the umpteenth time and still get caught up in the foreign intrigue, instinctive direction and superb playing of all the leads.
The film's screenplay has won awards as the best ever, which is of course ironic considering it was going through rewrites right up until shooting and the actors themselves didn't always understand the convoluted plotting. Perhaps their uncertainty helps give the film its edge, no-one quite knows how it's all going to finish until the pieces fall perfectly into place in the closing ten minutes at the airfield.
With more classic lines than any other film I can think of, including the most misquoted one ever, every plot and sub-plot is deftly handled and resolved. Moreover, it was undoubtedly brave of Warner's to take a patriotic stand at a time when the war was going badly for the Allies and one can only imagine the boost to morale the famous scene, when the patrons of Rick's Place drown out the provocative would-be triumphal and mocking singing of the German soldiers with their heartfelt rendition of the Marseillaise, gave to watching filmgoers in free Europe, especially France.
At its heart of course is a love story, a beautiful, twisted, dangerous and ultimately doomed love story, but it never upsets the balance of the film which helps it to ultimately satisfy on so many levels.
The acting, of course, is beyond reproach, Bogart as the cynical bar-owner with a conscience, Bergman, luminously beautiful but subtle and sensitive as she guards her heart, Rains, brilliant as the weather-vane local cop playing every angle and Heinreid as the noble, brave partisan who's also enough of a man of the world to forgive his wife's accidental transgression. Plus of course, even in the minor roles, some little more than cameos by Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson and others, there are eye-catching and memorable performances.
And let's not forget the astute direction of Michael Curtiz, often regarded and indeed derided by some critics as a journeyman, contractual director, known as a reliable and efficient studio-man who got the job done in an unflashy way. Be that as it may, I know he's directed many Hollywood features which are favourites of mine and if ever a movie needed an unflashy treatment, it was this one.
Curtiz knew that when it comes to great story-telling in celluloid, the fundamental things apply and that's why "Casablanca" will be loved and revered, as time goes by.
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
Holy Pecking Orders
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hollywood movies featuring religious elements were hugely popular during the Second World War. Think "The Bells Of St Mary's", "Going My Way" "The Song Of Bernadette" and this, the film adaptation of A.J. Cronin's popular recent novel of the time. Directed by the usually worthy John Stahl, it features an early starring role for Gregory Peck, who was Oscar-nominated for his performance.
The story takes us from Scotland (the land of Cronin's birth) to China although Peck's accent never actually leaves the States, even if everyone else in the Scottish section of the film at least makes an effort to attempt it.
The plot's a little like a church version of "Goodbye Mr Chips" as it takes us along with Peck's character through the various stations of his long life, beginning with him as a boy who witnesses and indeed is helpless to save his adored mother and father from death when they're swept away by a storm as they attempt to ford a fomenting river, after the father has been attacked for being Catholic. We then move forward in the film seeing Peck for the first time as a young man being steered towards the priesthood by his zealous aunt, ostensibly to deliberately prevent him marrying his sweetheart. Sent away on a religious seminary for an extended period and barred by the aunt from returning home, he's therefore absent when his girl apparently falls off the rails, gets pregnant and dies giving birth to a baby girl. Quite what she's done to deserve this fate when if anything she's the one misused by both Peck and his scheming aunt, for me certainly tarnishes the haloes of the so-called religious characters in the film, Peck included.
Anyway after getting a pep-talk from his old bishop friend Edmund Gwenn, Peck at last answers his vocation and heads off to China to start a church missionary settlement amongst the non-believing local community. A series of episodes not dissimilar to the plot of "Anna And The King Of Siam" duly follows culminating in the good father finding himself caught in between the warring factions as civil-war breaks out, before an act of heroism on his part which wouldn't have been out of place in "The Guns Of Navarone" at last convinces everyone that Father Greg is a decent man and worth changing faith for if you're not of the Christian persuasion.
I must admit I found the film rather dull, heavy-going and patronising certainly in its treatment of the local non-believing native population. It seems that Peck has to do something out of the ordinary like cure the local Mandarin's sick child of an infection or carry out a raid on the occupying army to get the full respect of everyone around him and that includes the new senior nun posted out with two colleagues to help Peck out. Add in a sentimental farewell by Peck to his now fully converted Chinese flock at the end and there you have it, another sainted priest guaranteed his place in heaven for good acts done down here below.
I like Peck but here he had yet to develop the combination steely / calm screen persona which marked his later career. He also just looks silly and unconvincing got up as an old man at the end of the film.
Possibly it's just me but I think I'd rather watch "Father Ted" than another sanctimonious, holier-than-thou vintage Hollywood message film like this. Better yet, maybe cart off Messrs Peck, Crosby, Fitzgerald, Tracy, O'Brien and all the rest of the priest pack to Craggy Island and let them all try to outdo each other with their good deeds and saving of sinners. Just leave the film cameras at home though, please.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Kane and Very Able
What can you do with a monument like Kane? Well, all I think you can do is just walk around it admiringly, time and again, because undoubtedly you'll see or hear something you've missed before which, at least if you're me, will only deepen your appreciation of Welles's breathtaking daring and genius in bringing it to the screen as his debut feature. Just consider that, his first film.
Of course it's no one-man show, as he has help from numerous gifted collaborators on the movie, from screenwriter Joseph L Mankiewicz's brilliant screenplay, to Gregg Toland's yardstick-setting cinematography, to Bernard Herrman's completely simpatico soundtrack plus of course Welles's own troupe of Mercury Theatre players who bring it to life.
But it's still unmistakably Welles's film from his frequently inspired direction, razor-sharp dialogue contributions and of course his tour-de-force acting performance in the title role. Probably the most dissected, on a scene-by-scene basis, movie ever made, even watching it today you still get the sense of risk involved in the enterprise, from its novel way with even the titles sequence, the dissolves between scenes to suggest the passage of time, low-angle camera set-ups scoping enclosed rooms, ceilings included, the expressionistic lighting, the monumental interiors, the overlapping dialogue, I think I'll stop there or I'll end up running away with myself.
It helps that the story at its heart is so involving and of course credible if you do the read-across from the real life near contemporary William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies relationship to Kane and Susan although I rather believe Welles's frequently made assertions that it wasn't just based on them. The film just bursts with great lines, dramatic situations and memorable scenes far, far too many to mention, in fact the only real weakness I can discern is that identified by Welles himself in later interviews as the dollar-book Freud pursuit of Kane's enigmatic dying utterance "Rosebud". It just wasn't necessary to add this layer of sentimental mystique to the film.
Otherwise, feel free to watch this movie any way you like, whether as a technical study in camerawork and set-design, as a scabrous attack on the graft-dominated policies of turn of the century American politics, a biopic of a great but deeply flawed man or even as a tragic, misbegotten love story. All the supporting cast are great in Welles's own considerable shadow, but if pushed I think I'd have to give a special best-of-the-rest mention to Dorothy Comingore as the hapless Susan.
It works on all the above levels but most of all it rightly stands as the apex, at that time at least, of what Hollywood cinema could achieve. Some would say it still holds that position today and I think I would struggle myself to put the case against it.
As the poster itself says, people will still be talking about it so long as pictures are made.
Ace of Wands: Peacock Pie: Part 3 (1972)
If You Could Read My Mind
I really enjoyed this adventure of Tarot and his young companions. Written by P.J. Hammond, future creator of the even more out-there "Sapphire And Steel" T.V. series, the three episodes here are mysterious, spooky and exciting, just the kind of thing my young adult self, okay I was only twelve at the time, wanted to watch when I got home from school.
"Peacock Pie" featured Peter Sallis, later of "Porridge" and "Last Of The Summer Wine" in a much tougher part than he usually played, as the steely-eyed modern witch Mr Peacock with mind-bending powers, able to make people see what he wants them to see. Staying at a small B and B with his supportive old landlord at his beck and call, he carries out on a whim a £40000 bank robbery just to demonstrate his power of suggestion over strangers. When he's casing the premises however he bumps into Mikki and identifies her superior psychic energy as a kindred spirit and from there it's not long before he crashes Tarot and Mikki's cabaret mind-reading act (well, it pays the rent) to gauge their capacities before he tries to bend their wills to his.
With some surprisingly good special effects, such as when Roy is firstly imprisoned, or so he thinks, in an electrified chamber and Tarot transported at least in his mind to the edge of a 40 feet high building, the trail leads back to the dowdy little B and B, only this time Mr Peacock makes it seem like it's a sumptuous town house and even transforms the old landlady herself into a well-dressed younger lady hostess.
The series hardly ever resorted to fisticuffs to further the action instead tilting the storyline to the psychological which I think lifted it well above whatever was passed off as children's entertainment at that time. As ever Michael MacKenzie was the trendily-dressed charismatic Tarot enthusiastically supported by Petra Markham and Roy Holder as his assistants.
Yes, the acting is a little underdone here and there, the sets aren't the most expensive and the special effects not always so very special, but I still think it stands up well today. And of course it had the coolest title sequence and theme tune around at the time.
North by Northwest (1959)
Roger and out
Talk about your change of pace. After making the dark, disturbing masterpiece that was "Vertigo" the year before, Hitchcock decided for his next trick to lighten proceedings with the playful and sophisticated "North By Northwest". For those who criticise the Master for only making the one type of movie, these two consecutive movies show that while ostensibly staying within the thriller genre, it's possible to extend your range and capabilities as a director without turning wholesale to period drama or sci-fi. Put it another way, they aren't two films to watch in a double feature. Which is the better of the two, well that depends on whether you prefer Mozart over Beethoven. Or do as I do and split the difference.
Just like "Vertigo", "North By Northwest" starts with a dazzling title-credits sequence, courtesy again of Saul Bass, combined with a superb theme, once again from Bernard Herrman. Then the fun really begins as we're introduced to the affable "Mad Man", Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill, a handsome, middle-aged, snazzily-dressed advertising executive, twice divorced and if truth be told, with a bit of a mother complex. By innocently raising his hand during a meeting with clients at a swank New York hotel, just when a call goes out for an individual named George Kaplan, he is immediately swept up in an espionage plot concerning the secret exporting of state secrets to an unnamed foreign Cold War power.
At the heart of these nefarious activities is the wealthy businessman Phillip Vandamm played with elan by James Mason who has in tow with him a number of besuited henchmen to do his bidding, particularly his right-hand man played with adoring devotion by Martin Landau as well as having a beautiful mistress on his arm, another classic Hitchcock blonde, this time Eva Marie Saint.
The action moves along smoothly and easily, helped by sparkling, sometimes risqué dialogue especially between Grant and Saint and incorporating some of Hitchcock's most memorable set-piece sequences, especially of course the attack on Grant in the middle of nowhere by a cropduster plane and the vertigo-inducing climax atop Mount Rushmore.
It's not only Hitchcock but all of his top-listed cast who are on top of their game here. Grant, still impossibly handsome in his mid-50s and wearing a suit better than anyone ever could, Saint sexy and sexually confident but with just an air of vulnerability in her compromised position, Mason coolly urbane, with a sinister edge and Landau as his homo-erotic bodyguard. Great also to see past Hitchcock supporting actors like Leo G. Carroll and Jesse Royce Landis on board for the ride with prominent parts.
"North by Northwest" brought Hitchcock to the end of the 50s, a decade where he had created a run of mostly outstanding features. As such it can be said to be the icing on the most sumptuous of cinematic cakes.
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
Billy Wilder's stirring movie starring James Stewart as Charles "Slim" Lindbergh, the first man fly across the Atlantic in an aircraft. The film Is of unusual narrative construction, as the centrepiece of the actual solo flight itself is interspersed with numerous flashbacks to earlier stages in the flier's life. I'm guessing this was done to break up the movie otherwise for much of the time, all there would be to watch would be Lindbergh immobile in his cockpit. It's also quite handy that the pilot likes to speak to himself out loud, as well as think out loud, the better to keep the viewer informed and keep the film interesting.
It does seem to me however at least from what I can see here that Lindbergh as a person wasn't exactly the most interesting of guys apart from his obsession with flying. He pretty much appears friendless, we don't get to meet his parents or learn much about his upbringing and there's no love interest either. Fair enough if this reflects Lindbergh's true nature and circumstances, but it does make it tough for even Stewart to bring him to life and make him interesting never mind likeable.
So, unusually for Wilder, dialogue is of only secondary importance here, with much of it tending to the technical and geographical. Instead we see him marshalling other aspects of his craft in particular the air cinematography, insertion of Miklos Rosza's lush soundtrack and getting good work from his cast, all of which he certainly achieves. I did think though that the nod to religiosity was too obvious and unnecessary after Lindbergh prays for a safe landing in Paris.
Stewart here was considerably older than Lindbergh was when he originally made his great flight, but with his boyish looks, good physical condition and natural ease flying a plane (remember he served with distinction as a pilot in the Second World War), he just about pulls it off. He also gets to whoop it up, somehow able to make himself heard to people below, like he probably hadn't been able to since George Bailey got his old life back, many movies before.
A celebration then more of an act of heroism, determination and courage than about the man who himself carried it out which from what I've read about Lindbergh's later politics seems to me the correct approach to take, especially considering Wilder's own nationality and religious persuasion.
The Bribe (1949)
Down in smoke
To anyone thinking of viewing this film, I'd really have to recommend skipping to the last ten minutes, which are absolutely sensational. There you'll find Robert Taylor and Vincent Price engaging in a tense gun-fight to the backdrop of a vibrant street party in a Caribbean coastal town. Their gunplay isn't the only game of fireworks around as the screen dazzles with all kinds of crashes bangs and wallops going off around them as they take pops at one another.
What a pity to report then that to get to that point you have to sit through a rather turgid sub-"Key Largo" meets "The Lady From Shanghai"-type convoluted tale involving smuggling, blackmail, embezzlement, adultery and of course murder. The cast here is almost comparable to the A-listers who graced "Key Largo" comprising this time Robert Taylor, Charles Laughton, Ava Gardner and Vincent Price, but they almost all seem to actually be miscast. Taylor, despite wearing a soiled white suit throughout just can't carry off hard-bitten or world-weary, Gardner looks lovely but seems too young for her part as the conflicted and compromised wife, Price if anything plays his double-crossing bad guy part too blandly, while Laughton just looks uncomfortable throughout, perhaps it had something to do with his shoes after all.
The plotting is too dense, the inter-relationships among the leads lack credibility and the stakes just don't seem high enough to justify all the hoopla going on round about it. In short, the film tries too hard, indeed right from the first shot, it seems to want to throw every Noir cliche at the camera in the hope that some of it will stick as we see Taylor in a shadowy hotel bedroom, doing a voice-over flashback in front of a mirror to boot. It's all just overdone and yet underwhelming.
I remember I first became aware of this film when watching the Steve Martin noir-spoof "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid', which included as its own finale much of the pyrotechnic climax here. It really whetted my appetite to track down the parent movie and I was so pleased to actually have it found for me.
Then I made the mistake of watching it.
The Twilight Zone: Mirror Image (1960)
Let's get metaphysical
This is the way I like my "Twilight Zone" episodes, contemporary, mysterious and eerie. It usually helps too if it's directed by Hollywood veteran John Brahm, is written by Rod Serling himself and has a major star in the lead role, as here, with Vera Miles.
Coincidentally for the woman who was slated to play the doppelgänger Madeleine / Judy in Hitchcock's classic "Vertigo", until she fell pregnant and had to be replaced by Kim Novak, Miles's character here also appears to be pursued by a double, which no one else can see. The action takes place In the confined setting of a sparsely populated bus station, late at night with the rain pouring outside. Then she starts to question her sanity when it appears she has been there before minutes before. The grumbling old station manager and a female cleaning attendant keep telling her they've just spoken to her and that maybe she's ill, but how else to explain what is going on when she shockingly sees what looks like an identical image of herself sat in the very same seat in a mirror's reflection.
Things look as if they might improve for her when a kindly young man comes in out of the rain and tries to reason with her, but even he gives up and eventually calls the police to take her away for her own safety, which they do in a very abrupt and sinister fashion. Then we get the twist ending which some might find too far-fetched, although with today's comic-book concepts of parallel worlds and multi-verses, maybe it's believable now more than then.
Yes, the device of having Miles scientifically explain what may be going on is placed a little too obviously and clumsily mid-episode, but this was still one of my favourite entries in the show's first season, well acted by Miles and neatly helmed by Brahm.
Night Nurse (1931)
Drunk and Miss Orderly
Another racy, pre-Code feature starring Barbara Stanwyck as a young, principled nurse who quickly learns to toughen up as the realities of hospital life quickly pile in upon her.
Accepted for her dream job at the second attempt and that only after she bumps into the kindly senior doctor, Charles Willinger at the hospital, she soon pals up with Joan Blondell's cynical, seen-it-all-before, experienced nurse.
You know you're watching a Pre-Code movie when you see the two young female stars undress about four times in the first half hour and also become the object of attention for leering male interns. In fact, this is a movie of two halves, the first part, after an arresting P.O.V harum-scarum drive by an ambulance racing to the hospital, settles down to an almost playful female-buddy feature as Stanwyck and Blondell team up to firstly foil the unwelcome male interest from their colleagues and secondly to break the strict curfew rules of their dorm, as set by the old, censorious ward sister. Romance does inevitably make an appearance too when the two tend to a recently injured fast-talking, handsome young bootlegger, Ben Lyon, who clicks with Stanwyck almost immediately.
So far, so entertainingly unremarkable until the film changes gear by assigning the pair to tend to two ailing infant girls at a rich, society woman's house. Although not apparent to the naked eye, at least so far as I'm concerned, both of the healthy looking youngsters are slowly being starved to death under the aegis of the household's controlling chauffeur (!) played with icy toughness by a pre-fame and pre-moustache Clark Gable so that he can marry their dipsomaniac, constantly drunk mother and get at the kids' trust fund money.
With Blondell only on day duty, it falls to night nurse Stanwyck to put herself in harm's way by standing up to the violent Gable and try to save the children, with a little help from her new boyfriend and the good doctor.
Other eye-opening scenes you wouldn't see after 1934 include Gable socking Stanwyck on the chin and later forcibly throwing her against a wall, the sheer wantonness of the children's mother proclaiming to a beseeching Stanwyck that she's s dipsomaniac and proud of it, before promptly passing out, the way that Lyon just disappears Gable at the conclusion and the racy dialogue between Stanwyck and Lyon. There's even a scene where Stanwyck curls her lip as she knocks down another male drunk who gets in her way.
Seriously, if a patient was stitched together the way this film was, I'd fear for their future health but there's compensation in seeing the nascent Stanwyck and Gable demonstrate, even with what they are given here, the powerful forces in Hollywood they would soon become. Blondell is great too as Babs's worldly, gum-chewing chum.
A real curio then this early talkie, which for all its faults in construction and occasionally, its stars apart, wooden acting, makes for a very entertaining 70 minutes of viewing time.
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
A good shout
This wasn't quite the rollocking gangster flick I was expecting with Raoul Walsh directing and James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart co-starring. Instead it seeks to do exactly what it says on the tin in microcosm by chronicling the tempestuous decade of the title by following the interconnected lives of three soldiers we first meet in the trenches of WW1 in 1918. These are obviously Cagney, Bogart and third wheel Jeffrey Lynn and their respective characters are thus set out for the viewer in that opening segment, Cagney, straight-talking, uncomplicated and street-wise, Bogart ambitious, callous and self-serving while Lynne is served up as decent, straight and loyal. To reinforce Bogart's inherent badness, he gets to utter the chilling line after he's killed a teenage German soldier Lynn has just spared, as it happens, scarce minutes before the long-anticipated Armistice is announced, when he coldly replies to Lynn's assertion that the kid was barely sixteen years old that he'll now never get to see his seventeenth birthday.
After the war, time has moved on and the otherwise unlikely trio have stayed bonded together as they all strive to survive as the new decade opens. Cagney was the headliner here so naturally the film primarily follows his rise and fall, with Bogart and Lynn falling in and out of his orbit as intermittent business partners, love rival (in Lynn's case) and unsympathetic financier (Bogart after the Wall Street Crash all but wipes out Cagney).
There are two prominent female parts, Gladys George is the experienced singer / hostess obviously carrying a torch for Cagney while Priscilla Lane is the young ingenue who enchants Cagney at their first meeting when still only a young girl and who he can't wait to grow up. She too wants to be a singer but even though Cagney's connections open doors for her, it's the younger Lynn who has her heart which naturally doesn't play well with Cagney. I thought George was great in her admittedly meatier part but wasn't wowed by the rather insipid Miss Lane and that includes her by-rote renditions of the fine songs she's given to sing like "My Melancholy Baby" and "It Had To Be You".
As per, Cagney's magnetism and electricity carry everything before them and he gets one great homage scene to his established tough-guy persona when he pushes a cigar into the face of an officious hotel manager. Bogart, just about to step up to top-billing himself, delivers strong support as Cagney's untrustworthy lieutenant. Lynn, rather like Lane doesn't leave a big impression, in fact I'd say that he and the equally bland Lane are a good match as a couple. Raoul Walsh's direction has a reputation for being frenetic and action-packed but I found his work somewhat mixed here as the action is held up periodically for various musical interludes and lofty "March Of Time" announcements over montage sequences as we head through the Jazz Age decade.
Still, he does otherwise keep a tight rein on the narrative and delivers a suitably elegiac ending for a revenged but otherwise dissolute Cagney on the snow-covered church-steps in George's arms where she delivers the film's classic closing line, in itself reminiscent of Edward G Robinson's dying line in "Little Caesar" from nearly ten years earlier. The two endings and final words effectively bookend the gangster genre for the succeeding decade of the 30's.
If not completely a roaring success then, this feature does at least make its voice heard in the classic gangster movie genre.
White Heat (1949)
It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Burnin'
If not exactly a full stop for Golden Age Hollywood gangster movies of the previous two decades, this film surely had to at least fulfil that function for star James Cagney and director Raoul Walsh who had last collaborated on "The Roaring Twenties", another of the great gangster movies, almost ten years before. Cagney later derided "White Heat" when looking back on it many years later which only goes to show that Jimmy's critical facilities regarding his own work possibly weren't too hot as it's so obviously a barnstormer of a movie.
Definitely showing his age both physically and facially, a more filled-out Cagney nevertheless dominates the feature from start to finish, culminating in one of the greatest closing scenes and indeed lines in all of cinema. He plays his character Cody Jarrett as a hair-trigger psychopath which keeps the viewer as well everyone around him on edge from first to last. His one weakness is for his old Ma Baker-type mother who likewise dotes on him. She, like him, trusts no one around him, least of all his slatternly wife Verna, played with relish by Virginia Mayo. Verna is tired of her old man and turns to Cody's younger and better looking ambitious deputy Big Ed which unfortunately for him doesn't end well. We learn too that it's she who kills old Ma Jarrett, who discovers the tryst between her and Ed, by shooting her in the back, although oddly, Walsh doesn't show us this scene in the final cut, which I can only put down to Code sensitivities.
There are however any number of other memorable scenes here like the aforementioned "Top of the world" flaming climax and the "telephone game" scene in the prison canteen when Jarrett learns of his mother's death, but there are other less celebrated scenes just as good like when Cagney kicks away a step-ladder from under Mayo reminding us of the grapefruit scene with Mae Clarke in his breakthrough role in "The Public Enemy" or when she takes a second to considerately spit out her gum before kissing him.
Director Walsh is on top of his game too, driving the action and suspense along, like the train over the titles, making great use of the major locations for the Jarrett Gang robberies with the train and of course at the massive oil foundry at the end, in so doing delivering a fitting conclusion to the genre for his great star. In Cagney's massive shadow, besides Mayo's feisty performance, there are fine turns too by Margaret Wycherly as the mean old mother and Edmund O'Brien as the insider cop.
The wonder is that Cagney wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for his performance which might have raised his estimation of both it and the film it served but never mind, history has done that for him.
Kiss the Girls (1997)
Tunnel of Hate
The first of two Morgan Freeman outings as James Patterson's Detective Alex Cross as he trails the kidnapper of gifted young women, one of whom just happens to be his own niece, a talented violinist. Occasionally some of the victims wind up dead, when trying to escape their subterranean prison but then the most recent one, a kick-boxing surgeon played by Ashley Judd, executes and somehow survives a thrilling jump for freedom into a streaming waterfall from the pursuing masked villain, she insists on teaming up with Cross and the local police to attempt to catch the collector and help release the remaining captive girls.
The film doesn't really deliver on twists as one might have hoped and so the whodunnit reveal of the perpetrator isn't really that big a deal, but it is effectively directed keeping the action low-key and more realistic which I think was the right approach here. Freeman is well cast as the forever calm and reasoning Cross and Judd supports well as the feisty doctor, unafraid to put herself back in danger for the cause.
Atmospherically shot with hand-held camera shots confidently tracking the escape runs we see through the labyrinthine tunnels and jungle-like forest when Judd makes her big escape bid, while you can later see Cross's Eureka moment coming in advance, it all builds up tensely to its climax where he and Judd face off against the now revealed baddie.
This successful thriller led to an inferior sequel which tried to play up Cross as some kind of action super-sleuth. Here he's more grounded and relatable which in the final analysis makes for a better movie all round.
The Twilight Zone: Elegy (1960)
Apology for Elegy
One of the odder and I would say slighter episodes of the "Twilight Zone" in which we are immediately introduced to three astronauts supposedly from the year 2085 (though you wouldn't know it from their cumbersome spacesuits) who are lost in space but alight on an asteroid with geographic and atmospheric conditions almost identical to Earth's. However, on stepping down to the actual asteroid, they find themselves in a strange world, handily set c.1959, although we're told by way of exposition that this was just before the great Atomic War which decimated and apparently desolated the world.
Before long they're hearing music and finally see humans, but they're stationary, frozen it appears in mid-action, all that is, apart from one twinkle-eyed old man who comes to life and explains, well sort of, where they are. The spacemen's final fates aren't revealed until the last scene but by the time we'd got there I was still scratching my head about it and the messages the story was trying to put across besides the usual warnings against Cold War nuclear proliferation.
It just seemed to me that more could have been made of the situation after the soldiers realised where they were and that maybe a darker approach could have been taken with the material. The acting didn't wow me either, with the astronauts almost acting self-consciously in their suits and one of them sporting the biggest forehead this side of the Coneheads.
There were no less than 36 episodes I see in the first season of the Zone and I guess they couldn't all be great. Case in point here.
Central Park Arrest
I found it pretty hard to credit this five part documentary on the high-profile murder of 18 year old Jennifer Levin in New York's Central Park in 1986 when I realised the significant parts that Linda Fairstein and Mike Sheehan, then respectively Assistant D.A. and Police Captain, played in both the original events and indeed their prominent parts in narrating the events here. Both, of course were later thoroughly excoriated in the other Central Park cause-celebre criminal trial of the five young black teenagers wrongly convicted of raping and assaulting a female jogger three years later, recently dramatised in the T.V. series "When They See Us". Either this programme was made before "When They See Us" aired or both had their own agenda in agreeing to participate, even if this time, they were both on the side of right.
The programme seemed to offer conclusive evidence, no matter how you look at it, from a taped video confession on down, that Miss Levin was murdered by the handsome Robert Chambers and yet at his much delayed trial, the jury couldn't reach a conclusive verdict and he eventually went to prison on the lesser charge and of course attendant sentence of manslaughter.
You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out what happened that fateful August night. The couple already knew each other, had a physical relationship and probably went to Central Park to engage in sex. Chambers however initially denied to the police even walking up the same street to the park as Miss Levin after they left a diner together and then told detectives that the scratch marks all over him were caused by his cat. Even after he admits later to causing her death, he attempted to deflect the blame back to the dead girl by claiming he accidentally killed her after she tried to rape him and engage him in rough sex. This from a guy twice the weight and much taller and stronger than his victim, who had bruises all over her body, especially around her neck, loose teeth probably caused by a punch to the face and who had been stripped of all her jewellery and money in her purse. He even sat impassively across from the murder scene after her body was discovered as the S.O.C.O. team went about their business.
However, Chambers' well-connected mother got him a hot-shot lawyer who promptly engaged in a despicable "shame the victim" defence, didn't demur at stooping to place highly visible newspaper and magazine articles supporting the perpetrator and even corralled support from the then Bishop of New York, himself later discredited and disgraced as a paedophile, into giving Chambers a character reference. All of this seemed to put enough doubt in the jury that they couldn't reach a clear verdict leaving Chambers's legal team to broker a reduced plea-bargain which could and should have seen him get out again in five years but thankfully his poor behaviour inside at least saw him serve his maximum term of fifteen years.
My other criticism of this programme, besides Fairstein and Sheehan's over-involvement was the way it dripped out key information an episode at a time. Take the first episode where it appears for all the world that Chambers and Jennifer didn't know each other before that fateful night, or that Chambers had a previous history of drug addiction and burglary. But I keep coming back to Fairstein and Sheehan, who we see at the very end reuniting in the park embracing as they share their memories, but who, and again I say this admitting they were on the correct side in this case, just didn't seem to do a good job at Chambers' trial against his switched-on legal team. When you see them both imagining Chambers' motive on the night or even worse, trying to connect him as a potential victim of the paedophilic priest, one's mind can't help but run on to the way they later set-up with invented and coerced confessions the later Central Park Five, only a few years later.
Although Miss Levin's family and friends fully participated in the programme (Chambers and his immediate family did not), I still feel it didn't serve them as well as it should have. Sort of like the American legal process back in 1986.