TOA/V: Hunted (1952)

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.

TOA/V: Tutti Frutti

I had heard of Tutti Frutti for years but figured it was lost to the VHS oblivion, but I happened upon a DVD set in an Oxfam shop that was in pristine condition — down to including John Byrne‘s postcards for the characters. Byrne — playwright, artist, father of Tilda Swinton’s twins — brings a freshness to the well-worn idea, a band on the road by giving it a few twists. Robbie Coltrane plays the original lead singer of a band with some 60s fame and his brother who takes over the role after his death. Emma Thompson plays the love interest with a credible Scottish accent. Richard Wilson plays the dodgy manager (a hoot of course).

It starts out going for the wacky humour but after a while the story gets rather dark between the sadness of the clubs they play on their ‘Jubilee Tour’, vicious and violent exes and the squeamishly awful attempts by their ‘sexy’ guitarist Vincent Diver (Maurice Roëves) to hang on to his youth. There’s an absurdist sensibility that never gets lost though between Coltrane’s running commentary on the increasing disasters (the recording session is hilariously painful) and the final concert triumph that flames out spectacularly.

And Thompson looks unbelievably fabulous as a Teddy Boy.

See the roundup of overlooked A/V over at Todd’s, who will be stunned I actually did one of these.

TOA/V: Death of a Scoundrel

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 09.02.00Czech refugee Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders), heartbroken and betrayed by his lover and his brother, sails to New York City, intent on changing his luck. Sabourin does manage to become wealthy and successful, but he does it by robbing, lying and cheating everyone he meets. Therefore, it’s no big surprise when Sabourin turns up murdered. But, since nearly everyone in his life wanted him dead, it’s going to be that much that trickier to find the real killer. [1956]

Written and directed by Charles Martin, this film is a bit clunky and at times given to melodrama, but there’s a lot to fascinate, too. Foremost of course is the cast which not only features the ever-delightful George Sanders for whom cads were a stock in trade, but also a galaxy of great women who really make the film memorable. Yvonne de Carlo is terrific as the petty thief who becomes his right hand; Zsa Zsa Gabor plays her usual rich doll but with a fresh snarkiness that gives much more than the script suggests.

Nancy Gates has a great turn as Stephanie North, the secretary who wants to be an actor who catches Sabourin’s eye. Though he’s romancing three or four women at the time to advance various schemes (in the photo giving Colleen Gray’s soon-to-be-divorced magnate’s wife handcuff bracelets), he genuinely falls for her and when Gabor’s socialite fires her in a fit of jealousy, he funds her Broadway debut. He’s so captivated by her that he doesn’t catch on that the scene she’s playing on stage is just like the seduction scene he has planned for her later, which amuses de Carlo’s Bridget Kelley to no end. He goes through with the attempted seduction anyway and is stunned when the rising star laughs at the strange duplication.

Not really a lost classic by any means, but much interesting here and more than a little hint of noir. Check out the round-up of neglected A/V over at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: The Ealing Comedies

Available on iPlayer* for a while and just over an hour long, The Ealing Comedies (1970) offers a vintage look at the singular success of the tiny studio that could. If you are not a fan of these films, I probably don’t have much to say to you, as they are some of the most delightful bits of celluloid in existence.

Creative folks wondering how to find their way in a culture that rewards the already famous and familiar might also find here a wealth of lessons on how to carve out success with very little — applicable to small presses as well as indie filmmakers and others. Lessons to be learned from this small studio:

Take the lack of capital as a challenge to creativity, i.e. what can you make from what you have?

Multi-skilled people thrive in this kind of environment. What are your skills?

Collegiality is a must. Do you play well with others? Also, as Diana Morgan demonstrates, breaking glass ceilings takes persistence and smarts and sometimes just being the best.

Wishes can be fodder for plans. Example: Henry Cornelius wished for a film that showed a bunch of boys taking over London for a day. Visualising that image, he had to figure out what made it happen: cue Hue & Cry, the first of the Ealing comedies that made use of the wreckage around St. Paul’s.

Don’t disdain a small role: Jack Warden’s first role as a copper ended 20 minutes into the film — but it led to a long string of parts.

Fit yourself to the part available: Ealing had no stars at first, roles were written and actors made them their own.

There are a lot of impossibles: find what is just possible.

Whisky.

The best quote perhaps from Charles Crichton: The comic should not neglect the poetic (alas, most comedies at present do).

See it for yourself and then go watch some of those wonderful films. And be sure to check out the other neglected works at Todd’s blog.

*Non-UK folk may want to get a location masking app like Tunnel Bear to watch things from iPlayer.

TOA/V: Burn, Witch, Burn!

BURN, WITCH, BURN (AKA Night of the Eagle) 1961
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Screenplay by Charles Beaumont/Richard Matheson/George Baxt
Based on Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
Starring Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon

This is a fairly good adaptation of Leiber’s Conjure Wife (a brilliant little novel if you’ve not read it), dramatically retitled for American release complete with exclamation point. Snooty psychology professor studies superstitious beliefs with condescending rationality — until he discovers that his wife Tansy has been working magic to build his career. Well, if there’s one thing a guy like him hates more than magic, it’s the idea that his wife might be responsible for his success.

So he makes her burn all her workings and talismans and what do you know? Things start going badly for them both. Seems there’s a rival whose wife also uses magic…

This is a fun film that didn’t get near enough attention on its release (or since really). I love the mixture of academia and magic — obviously one of the things in the cauldron of my mind that helped conjure Satan’s Sorority.

See all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: A Woman’s Secret

A Woman’s Secret
Dir. Nicholas Ray
Script: Herman J. Mankiewicz
Gloria Grahame, Maureen O’Hara, Melvin Douglas

Of course I wanted to see this for glorious Gloria. The make-up! As the star Estrellita, they try to make her look more ‘exotic’ I guess and they do the extra lip thing: you know creating a fuller top lip which looks so wrong, though they did that to a lot of actresses at the time.

Nothing wrong with her lips!

The film starts off with the star flouncing into her apartment and telling off O’Hara, saying she’s had enough of her Svengali act and is quitting. The two argue and behind a closed door, a gun goes off. The rest of the film is flashbacks to see how we got there and what really happened.

O’Hara is a peach but she can’t hold a candle to Grahame, who’s not on screen nearly enough but is magic whenever she is. The rough protégé tries O’Hara’s patience, but also becomes her vicarious double, robbed of stardom herself after a tragic illness. I want to read the novel Mortgage on Life by Vicki Baum because I suspect there’s a lot more intrigue than ended up on screen.

So much skirting the censors: Douglas and O’Hara make great beards for each other. There’s even a ‘phew, since we’re not interested in each other, let’s hang out instead’ scene and O’Hara is so obsessed with Grahame she looks like a cat ready to pounce. Meanwhile the singer-in-training is as likely to follow a man to Algiers on a whim as show up for her star debut.

Douglas is a hoot, but so too are the husband and wife detecting team the Fowlers (Mary Philips, as the mystery-reading amateur and as her proper policeman husband, Jay C. Flippen). Fun stuff!

See all the gems at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: It’s Not Repetition, It’s Discipline + I’ll Be Your Mirror

IT’S NOT REPETITION, IT’S DISCIPLINE
The Fall Definitive Documentary

The filmmakers admit the subtitle was added by the record company who put out the DVD and not something they aimed to do (and believe me, it’s not). This is a fan-made doco, filmed in bits over twelve years and then edited together. Other than footage of the band, you will not see a female face. Hardcore male fans who are interested only in other hardcore fans and ‘experts’ who look like themselves. It’s a bit curious in a band that has always had women in it (at one point Mark E. Smith was the only male in the band) the fandom is staggeringly male, to the point that Fall gigs are about the only concerts where there’s no line at the ladies.

The interviews that are here are sometimes interesting, Rollins in particular. Grant Showbiz offers some interesting behind-the-scenes tales. The ‘rare’ Mark E. Smith interview is the usual cat-and-mouse event that amuses the long time fans and probably confuses those unfamiliar with the jester-in-chief of the band.

The DVD will probably suit hardcore fans. It’s not something that will win over any new fans except those already destined to join the fold whether they know it or not.

Ill Be Your Mirror

I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR
Una Baines / Keith McDougall

I contributed to the campaign to publish this comics memoir and I could not be happier. Baines who was in The Fall, played with Nico and as well as founding The Fates and Poppycock, has a rich bounty of experiences to share. Her story’s beginning makes for a fascinating snapshot of the 1970s in Manchester. McDougall’s art has a kind of vintage underground/alt comics vibe (in the vein of Roberta Gregory, Mary Fleener and Carol Lay). Baines’ perception of the limits of her religious upbringing and her introduction to feminism and rock-n-roll come alive in the pages with both a charming sense of innocence and the dangerous power of true awakening.

Then one day a strange man walks into her life at a fair and she finds a partner in adventure. They share music and discuss politics and in a wonderfully drawn sequence, drop acid together.

This comic is such a delight and the best part is the last page says “To be continued” — and I certainly hope so as this will be a terrific memoir to enjoy for fans of music, Manchester, women, comics, revolutionary spirits and all.

See also: Furia by Fates

Catch up with all the overlooked A/V at Todd’s blog.