There are a few holes in my film diary: an embarrassing one has now been remedied. Criterion has an absolutely mesmerising release of Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows with the radiant Jeanne Moreau. I swear there’s not a frame that doesn’t sing. Of course there’s the fine soundtrack by Miles but you probably already knew that. If you haven’t seen it — or haven’t seen it lately — it’s about time, don’t you think?
The first filmed version of ‘grandmother of noir’ Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall. More recently there’s The Deep End. Both interesting in what they use and what they leave out. The novel is terrific. Teaching it again in the spring.
Join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and agonise over your art. Ken Russell directs a fabulous cast, full of eye-searingly vivid images. Just what you need.
I’d heard about this Skolimowski film for some time, especially from the Folk Horror folks. I had vague memories of reading about The Shout somewhere back in the day, but only recently got a copy to watch. Yes, the premise is a little silly — no more so than Experiment IV though, and with a likewise stellar cast. A sound that kills: a fascinating concept. The opening scenes on the dunes are eerily creepy and the film maintains an undercurrent of unease that’s quite powerful. I want to read the Robert Graves story it’s inspired by and see if it’s just as English. So much of the plot relies on people in uncomfortable situations unwilling to be frank about their discomfort. Francis Bacon images punctuate the sound studio in the farm house. The sound track is by former Genesis folk Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks, but don’t let that put you off. This is my favourite scene:
Keep an eye on your buckles, folks.
Fabulous version of the MR James story with Michael Hordern, directed by the esteemed Jonathan Miller and featuring the Norfolk coast.
This taut little thriller starts off going pell-mell and never really stops. The script by Jack Whittingham hasn’t got an ounce of fat and barely slows enough to breathe. Of course you expect Dirk Bogarde to turn in a compelling performance, but the real surprise for most folks is child star (later historian of art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) Jon Whiteley. It’s he who kicks things off, tearing through the streets and nearly getting run over by a Watney’s Red Barrel wagon, all the while trailing his teddy bear.
When little Robbie runs into Bogarde’s Chris Lloyd in an abandoned warehouse near the river with a dead body, it easy to assume the worst will happen. Like many films of its time, the rubble from the war gives the cityscape a suitably noir seediness as they both seek to elude the authorities and unravel the events that made them run.
We’re so accustomed to Spielberg’s cloying sentimentality: it’s so refreshing to see a child actor who’s not the least bit self-conscious and to enjoy a story that is touching without ever giving in to sentiment. The harsh journey north from London all the way to Scotland bonds them together in rough and unexpected ways.
Classic director Charles Crichton (if you don’t know him, remedy that at once) makes the most of the spare dialogue and his actors’ faces. The folk song and fairy tale scene alone would be enough to feel proud of for a whole career.
Check out all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.
BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH
Geoffrey Homes (1946)
Probably best known as the text for Out of the Past, the classic noir film with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas (and how much better a title is the book than that?), this novel written under a pseudonym by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who also worked on the script for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and dozens of others, has much less cultural currency than the film it led to (I’d forgotten Against All Odds was a remake: I just cringe automatically on hearing in my head the Phil Collins theme song).
It’s a tight little book that feels very much like an adapted screenplay. There’s no wasted words in this slim volume though it fleshes out the backstory of the novel quite a bit more. The action pretty much hurls through the events non-stop. Nonetheless Homes/Mainwaring offers some moments worth lingering over, throwing in scraps of poetry (‘When I am dead and over me bright April shakes down her rain-drenched hair’) and some description that offers a bit of poetry of its own:
Lloyd Eels was a tall man who hadn’t come off the assembly line.Somebody had found some spare parts lying around and had put them together carelessly, not bothering to get the bolts tight so that they seemed almost ready to come apart. He had black, sad eyes and a black mustache like an untrimmed hedge. No amount of combing would help his shock of hair.
‘You’re getting fat,’ Red said. ‘It doesn’t become you.’
‘You come up here to tell me that?’
‘No, I hate to see a man let himself go. They’ll get you back in shape in Alcatraz.’
‘Always the jester,’ Whit said acidly.
‘But the cap is getting pretty shabby and the bells lose their merry tinkle.’
Jim Caldwell’s eyes saw nothing in the drab domestic scene to wonder at, nothing to make him consider even momentarily the thought that people got old and people took each other for granted and presently there was no magic in the world. Jesus, she was beautiful standing under the hard, white light, her head tilted a little, her cheeks flushed, her dark eyes full of stars.
See all the overlooked books over at Patti’s blog.