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1. Plenty of the movies I see are so obscure it finally dawned upon me that I really ought to describe some of them for the benefit of other researchers.
2. Having hit the age of 60 I can tell that my recall of films I've just seen is developing a shorter and shorter half-life; and therefore feel that it will from now on be wise to set down any impressions worth recording fairly promptly.
The Rainbow Jacket (1954)
Bill Owen had just starred for Dearden & Relph in a stark black & white drama about boxing called 'The Square Ring', and Ealing Studios presumably felt the need to lighten up a bit for their next film shot largely on location in immaculate Technicolor by Otto Heller; hence the title.
A subplot concerns money owed by Owen to a loan shark played by an unbilled Bernard Lee (also unbilled are David Hemmings, and Katie Johnson in an amusing cameo), one of whose goons cuts Owen's lip with a beer glass, thus serving to remind us that this is still the Britain of ration books and spivs; but simply prolongs the film without making it more interesting.
Seventh-billed Honor Blackman as Edward Underdown's wife looks ravishing in Technicolor, and in jodhpurs provides some Bond Girl glamour, but is largely absent from the second half of the film.
The Boy with Green Hair (1948)
A Bit of Evergreen
This unique film begins with a scene set in a police station at night which resembles the work of Edward Hopper, promptly followed by one of the biggest surprises in a film full of them in the form of a benign Robert Ryan in Technicolor in a brown suit in the prologue and epilogue.
Wedded to a very specific moment both in the history of the world and of Hollywood, the film that emerged represents the competing input of several specific individuals; of whom one of the most decisive is probably the least mentioned, Betsy Beaton, author of the original short story published in the 29 December 1946 edition of 'This Week' magazine (while what the film is really about is eloquently summed up in a throwaway remark made by one of the kids, "How'd you like to have your sister marry someone with green hair?").
Director Joseph Losey made only one more feature film in colour before he and fellow blacklistee Ben Barzman worked again on another pacifist fantasy (this time in very stark black & white) about child victims of war, 'The Damned' (1961) - the draft of which by Barzman Losey discarded - which remains one of Losey's most underrated films.
The fate of both films at the hands of the studios that originally produced them provide a fascinating footnote to the Cold War they eloquently bookend.
"It's a Question of Giving the Clients What They Ask For..."
The title is typical of the stream of unfunny double entendres by Robin Gough dignified with being called a script ("I like a man who keeps his tool where he can get at it..."), but aside from looking painfully cheap - apart from the Holiday Inn used at the conclusion - and the horrible clothes worn by most of the men it stands up remarkably well to today's rigorously PC standards.
The interview panel vetting hero Jeremy Bulloch are all women (and at least two are obviously of mature years), most of the women are good-humouredly unflappable (and several holding down responsible jobs) while actively enjoying sex; gay characters of both sexes are matter-of-factly introduced into the narrative and one of the women he ends up romping with is black.
It's usually women who in reality complain about mens' disinclination to commit; yet here despite the fact that the two of them are already enjoying a highly satisfactory love life it's the hero who wants to get married and his gorgeous big-haired girlfriend who makes it the subject of the bet that gives the film it's title before she's prepared to tie the knot.
Dragonfly Squadron (1954)
WHERE Are Those Planes??
A good cast carrying an awful lot of emotional baggage finally stop talking and settle their differences in the face of a ferocious onslaught of stock footage of enemy tanks. Cynical reporter Jess Barker continues needling downed Major John Hodiak by posing the above question just before the film library finally comes through with footage of planes to see off the tank footage.
Josephine and Men (1955)
The Boulting Brothers often veered from very high highs to very low lows; and 'Josephine and Men' is historically interesting as marking one of the deepest troughs into which they plunged.
Nigel Balchin, hardly known for his sense of fun (and the plot does involve someone committing suicide offscreen), is incongruously credited with scripting this gaudily coloured farce which drags a good cast down with it to hit rock bottom in the mid-fifties morass located between the Boultings' late forties critical peak, and their eventual resurgence during the second half of the fifties (to be followed - along with most of the rest of British cinema - by an even more ignominious plunge during the seventies).
Oshidori utagassen (1939)
The Life of Oharu
Anyone who ever wondered if Japanese films in general and samurai pictures in particular are ever capable of lightening up have probably already had their minds set at rest by the delightful tap-dancing finale of Kateshi Kitano's 'Zatoichi' (2003). But if they have further need of convincing here comes this Hollywood-style frolic described by Alex Jacoby as a "samurai musical" dashed off during a two-week break in another production with the same cast, crew and sets.
Fluidly shot by master cameraman Kazuo Miyagawa, it's fast-moving and full of lively cinematic effects such as a sword fight accompanied by asynchronous music. Playing an umbrella manufacturer with a ruinously expensive penchant for antiques, the 34 year-old Takeshi Shimura was already playing fathers even then, and - along with most of the rest of the cast - sings too!
Kinky Boots (2005)
If the Kinky Boot Fits...
Following in the footprints of 'The Full Monty' and 'Calender Girls' is this sweet little fable combining quirkiness with kinkiness - although I could have done without the emphatic & twee musical score de rigueur these days.
Personally I've always felt less was more where fetish footwear was concerned (I much preferred The Catwoman's kitten-heeled ankle boots and the fluorescent blue court shoes 'Lola' wore when s/he first sashayed into the factory to the clumpy red monstrosities that take their place) and they would have to get an AWFUL lot of new orders from other drag queens now they're not mass-producing brogues...
The Lady of Scandal (1930)
Passionless Passion Play
This tinny early talkie version of Frederick Lonsdale's 'The High Road' is fun to start with but eventually outstays it's welcome as the leads blather on passionlessly and at great length about love.
Director Sidney Franklin is plainly concentrating on the performances rather than the camera (in the process actually getting a decent performance out of Frederick Kerr), and Basil Rathbone starts to show what he would be capable of when his film career kicked off in earnest shortly afterwards.
Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)
Dr. Renault's Experiment
J.Carroll Naish gets star billing as the hirsute but dapper secret of the title in yet another airing of a perennial horror theme (which saw service in several silent films), this time with glossy forties Fox production values.
On this occasion originating with Gaston Laroux's 1911 novel 'Balaoo' (first filmed in 1913) and lit by the cameraman on the classic silent version of Leroux's most famous novel 'The Phantom of the Opera', it's almost immediately obvious where this is all leading but takes a very long time getting there, grievously wasting George Zucco as Dr.Renault in the process before ending very abruptly.
90° South (1933)
"What Fun It Will Be When We Are Home Again and See This in the Cinema..."
Although now superceded as the 'definitive' version of Herbert Ponting's silent record of the Scott expedition by the restoration of his original 'The Great White Silence' of 1924, this sound reissue works well on its own terms as a straight runthrough of that famous calamity; especially as it is personally narrated on the soundtrack by Ponting himself, who actually appears at the start rather stiffly addressing us in evening dress (confirming that Clive Morton managed a reasonable likeness of him in 'Scott of the Antarctic' fifteen years later).
Here Comes the Sun (1946)
Great Fun with an All-Stir Cast
The vagaries of film history are once again demonstrated by the obscurity in which this little classic languishes.
The last film made as a team by Flanagan & Allen before ill health forced the latter's retirement (not that you'd know it to look at him, since Chesney Allen looks as strong as a horse and went on to long outlive every other member of The Crazy Gang). It's directed with enormous vigour & pace by John Baxter, and is obviously following in the footsteps of the patter, wisecracks and breaches of the fourth wall in 'Hellzapoppin' and the 'Road' comedies (with even a spot of backslang thrown in for good measure) which it deserves to be as fondly remembered as. But isn't.
A Very Poor Man's 'Ringer'
The title suggests a comedy, but is actually the alias of an arch criminal who occasionally kills someone to keep things interesting; presumably inspired by Edgar Wallace's 'The Ringer', the most recent film version of which had hit cinemas the previous year.
Set mostly in the stately home of newspaper baron Lord Wrexford, in which people spend most of the film pedestrianly lined up by director Maclean Rogers discussing the case; Rogers occasionally showing a modicum of visual imagination when somebody else gets murdered (there's a remarkably graphic shot of a dead man with his eyes open), and in the prologue set in Berlin which begins with a close-up a very young Diana Coupland as a leggy nightclub singer languidly lighting up (less surprising than it at first sounds to those who know she later dubbed Ursula Andress's singing voice in 'Dr.No').
Too Young to Love (1960)
I've Seen It and I Still Don't Believe It!!
An astonishing exercise in late fifties sleaze worthy of pre-code Hollywood set in a surreal British visualisation of Brooklyn (complete with American-style slang) based on a play by Elsa Shelley called 'Pick Up Girl'; but then wrecked by garrulous scripting by Sydney Box and leaden direction from Muriel. Raymond Durgnat in 'Films in Review' said it "seems to be slanted for American television", and it certainly feels like an ancient TV production.
Presumably rushed into production to capitalise on the 'shock' impact recently achieved by 'Anatomy of a Murder', the script includes words like 'sex delinquent', 'marijuana', 'abortion' and 'syphilis' delivered by Thomas Mitchell (who presumably had been imported to lend the sort of folksy gravitas Joseph Welch had brought to Preminger's film). British-based Yanks & Canadians Joan Miller (who was in the original stage production), Jess Conrad, Cec Linder, Alan Gifford, Austin Willis and Charles Farrell fill out supporting roles in the tiny courtroom presided over by a clerk primly played by - believe it or not! - Bessie Love.
Sheila Gallagher is breathtaking as platinum blonde bad girl Ruby.
I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Ken Loach must finally be mellowing, since we actually only get occasional glimpses of the relentless Kafkaesque nightmare that is negotiating Britain's benefit system in the 21st Century.
In his determination to humanise his central characters Loach devotes far too much time to Daniel Blake's resilience, good humour, and friendship with Katie (whose story provides more than sufficient material for a separate movie of her own; and as a pretty but vulnerable young woman the film graphically demonstrates is prey to even more insidious forms of abuse in her own right), and remarkably little to the profligate amount of time squandered on negotiating the intractable bureaucratic maze of form-filling, queuing and listening to Vivaldi that blights the lives of him and countless others.
Overworked, badly-paid drones testily tell Daniel to "Listen!!" while never actually listening to HIM; and those who deviate from the script by attempting to be sympathetic or helpful can expect immediately to be pounced upon and upbraided by their managers for wasting time. But we only fleetingly see chores like the 9 a.m. CV preparation class whose true function is just to provide yet another hoop for him to jump through; and we never see the endless hours spent on public transport during the rush hour getting to and from these mischievously time-consuming impositions (invariably scheduled first thing in the morning).
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)
One for the Book
An independent production by Jack. L. Warner released through Fox with an unrepeatable trio of leads. (John Dall returned to the stage and didn't make another movie until 'Spartacus' nearly ten years later; while Jane Wyatt's film career was disrupted by the blacklist and she instead found her niche on TV in 'Father Knows Best'.) Top-billed Lee J. Cobb is eccentrically cast as Dall's brother (I guess only their mother could tell them apart), and his relationship with high maintainance femme fatale Jane Wyatt is rather hard to believe. Thereafter he soon settled into heading the supporting cast.
Although usually described as such, this isn't really a typical film noir (although Ms Wyatt is appropriately bad news as the femme fatale), since instead of the urban hell of nighttime New York we are treated to an attractively sunlit San Francisco used as an incongruous backdrop to a tale of adultury and murder as Hitchcock did a few years later in colour in 'Vertigo'.
Sordid Hell on the Golden Mile
The last film of both director George King and star Douglass Montgomery (both of whom coincidentally died in 1966) is a dark melodrama typical of postwar austerity Britain with a decidedly continental feel in which romance beckons with nice Hazel Court, but Montgomery is already shackled to faithless high maintainance wife Patricia Burke.
Peopled with denizens of the spiv economy like Ronald Shiner and a lean, zoot-suited young Kenneth Griffith packing a flick-knife; it could easily be French, or a German silent, and even looks like one courtesy of Hone Glendinning's usual atmospheric photography and the production design by Bernard Robinson, who later found steady employment with Hammer Films.
Kubanskie kazaki (1950)
Land of Plenty
If films like this were all Uncle Joe and Fred Kite had to go on you can understand their belief that the Soviet Union had truly delivered a workers' paradise on earth in which the sun always shone; and with its Autumn Fair groaning with fresh fruit and fully-stocked stores supplying anything your heart could desire from bicycles to pianos.
Despite a few shots of tractors and ruddy-cheeked lassies in headscarves and spotless colour-coordinated dresses harvesting the corn (surpassing their quotas in the process) everybody has the time and energy to sing, dance and generally frolic about just as in a Hollywood musical.
The locals all seem to have had a good war (apart from one young lady who mentions being orphaned) and nearly everybody (the women included, presumably for their high yields) wears medals. The use of authentic Russian locations and the gorgeous colour photography are ravishing at first, but it all gets rather monotonous and the best it's makers can come up with to beat Hollywood at its own game is the usual love story between rival farmers.
Underworld: Evolution (2006)
The Name's Selene...
There's been a lot of tiresome talk in recent years about the desirability of making James Bond a woman and calling it "reinvention". But instead of trashing yet another long-established classic franchise, why not simply create a new one?
We've already had a truly badass female action heroine for over fifteen years in the supple form of Selene: an English rose in shiny black PVC capable of driving a truck with one hand while blowing away winged bad guys with an Uzi in the other; a sort of death-dealing Emma Peel who arrives by helicopter to kick ass (but why did she have to be the only woman aboard?).
It's probably just commercial timidity - and laziness - that has so far rendered it beyond the wit of today's filmmakers of creating a non-vampiric Selene and - Bingo! - you've got your female James Bond! Maybe they could simply put Aeon Flux in a wetsuit and in charge of her own all-girl death squad and get it right this time...
The Ravagers (1965)
"Anything Can Happen in a War..."
Walking about Manila and the surrounding countryside during the early sixties, film crews noisily reenacting the war in the Pacific must have been almost as common a sight as roadworks are in London today.
The relative brevity of John Saxon's role suggests his scenes were shot fairly quickly; but in addition to the usual picturesque locations and energetic gunplay, this one is enlivened by the novelty of nuns and Maureen O'Hara's daughter Bronwyn Fitzsimons in her first (and last) film lead as the big-haired American blonde they are sheltering.
Surrender - Hell! (1959)
Based upon the 1955 memoir by Lt. Donald D. Blackburn (1916-2008), played here by tall blonde hunk Keith Andes. Most of the dialogue appears to have been post-synced, hence the almost non-stop narration by Andes that quickly grows monotonous; but compensated for by photography that is in places remarkably good.
The one luxury granted the lieutenant upon finding himself stranded upon a remote island in the Philippines would appear to have been second-billed Susan Cabot (SPOILER COMING:), but she actually drops out of the action surprisingly swiftly. Fortunately she's almost immediately replaced by the equally hot local star Paraluman, who has special billing and an almost identical chic fifties bob to Miss Cabot's.
Man in the Middle (1964)
Is There Justice Apart from Might...?
An intelligently written (by Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall fresh from 'The Long and the Short and the Tall') and well-acted court martial drama depicting the murder trial of a racist reactionary played by Keenan Wynn who Bob Mitchum has the same thankless job of defending as Jimmy Stewart did of defending the even more rebarbative Ben Gazzara in 'Anatomy of a Murder'.
With the activities of jihadis in Europe currently constantly making headlines and the murder only three years ago of Labour MP Jo Cox by a far right extremist, the line "I've never met a murderer yet that somebody didn't say he was crazy..." continues to resonate.
The Terrornauts (1967)
Like Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine' forty years later this film starts promisingly enough with the receiving of a mysterious distress signal from the depths of space, but completely unravels towards the end; 'The Terrornauts' because it just didn't have the funds for slam-bang special effects at the finale, 'Sunshine' precisely because it did, and like so many movies these days ends up so bludgeoning you with visual effects you end up begging for it to stop.
Several earlier reviewers have compared 'The Terrornauts' (a totally meaningless title by the way) to 'Dr Who', but one thing it has that British TV then lacked was bright shiny sixties Eastman Colour (sic), and as long the action remains indoors it passes painlessly enough. (Respected British sci-fi author John Brunner - whose only film script it was - said that producer Milton Subotsky "was a very reasonable guy" and a pleasure to work with, that Brunner scrapped most of the original splendidly titled pulp novel 'The Wailing Asteroid' (1960) by Murray Leinster, and later got "a fan letter from someone in Indiana who'd seen it on TV and who said what a pleasure it was to hear the technical terms used correctly for a change".)
It all goes pear-shaped unfortunately when bug-eyed monsters and galactic battle-cruisers are finally called for.
Stolen Assignment (1955)
The Lady Craved Excitement
Filmed at Bray Studios by Terence Fisher, but not according to the credits a Hammer Production (although several crew members from other Hammer productions appear in those credits) and played only semi-seriously with a whimsical music score, as strapping blonde Hy Hazel in a succession of elegant suits runs amuck as an aspiring girl reporter while Charles Farrell overacts seismically as the newspaper editor whose eye she's determined to catch.
The Key Man (1957)
The biggest surprise of this very ordinary little potboiler is that amateur sleuth Lee Patterson has a wife - foxily played played by Paula Byrne - while big blonde Hy Hazel is effectively a guest star as a glamorous nightclub singer during the film's midsection.
Veteran cameraman Philip Grindrod exploits the tiny budget to good effect with the usual vivid locations and a couple of sequences dramatically underlit.
Go to Blazes (1942)
Where's That Fire?
A delightful Ministry of Information short making light of the extremely serious business of dealing with incendiary bombs which conveys the still timely message that practise is always better than simply consulting the instruction manual.
First we see Hay making a complete pig's ear of dealing with one in a manner worthy of Wile E. Coyote (which undercuts his supposedly authoritative narration describing how he would go about it by the book). When a real bomb hits, his wife Muriel George and daughter Thora Hird (in pigtails & school uniform) calmly take the matter in hand because as the missus says, "I go to lectures, I don't give 'em". And the point has been wittily made that preparation is everything.