the Mitchum-as-Marlowe experience was much more satisfying in Farewell My Lovely, which was set as it should be in prewar Los Angeles.
Lew Grade produced both films, I have no idea why he thought itd be a good idea to transpose such a time-and-place specific story as The Big Sleep to then-modern-day Britain. The whole plot hinges on the conceit that topless photos of women are only available in seedy backstreet shops masquerading as legitimate bookstores! did Grade never look at page 3 of his daily paper?
also, both Mitchum and the actresses playing the Sternwood sisters are a couple of decades too old for the characters.
but if you dont want to read the book, but do want to finally learn who really killed Rusty Regan, the Mitchum version will finally solve that mystery.
(I reported on both films several pages back, albeit out of order).
btw if you dont want to read seven novels and a half dozen volumes of short stories, but do want to read enough Chandler to bluff your way through conversation at dinner parties, the three to read are The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye. The others are much more rarely discussed, though The Little Sister is cool because its Chandler himself satirising his unhappy experiences in Hollywood.
Well said, totally agree.
The reason for the "Big Sleep" remake being set in then contemporary London and surroundings was simply money. Much cheaper to shoot in existing streets etc that don't need dressed up to look in-period.
The Big Sleep (1978) was directed by Michael Winner. It’s very fashionable to slate Winners filmography, but he directed many decent movies in his career, and his Sunday Times restaurant reviews were unmissable.
A classic piece of successful science fiction from bestseller writer Michael Crichton, who also directed.
You’ll all know the story: tourists get to realise their historical fantasies until something goes horribly wrong with the once compliant robots’ programming.
The first half of the film is intriguing. A TV advert tells us what we need to know about Delos and its fabulous vacations. The following credits are so short [title, stars x3, producer, writer & director] they may as well not be there at all. Next we are scooting through the skies on a hover craft and meeting Richard Benjamin’s nervous divorcee Peter and James Brolin’s confident, single John. They both want to visit Westworld to experience life on America’s 1880s frontier. Peter ‘kills’ a gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner, who is duly mocking his role as Chris Adams from The Magnificent Seven. The Gunslinger is merely a robot and Peter relaxes into the resorts all-encompassing events and compliant robo-machines.
Meanwhile the scientists and technicians who run the resort are discovering tiny faults across the spectrum of their robotics. They equate it to a virus, a disease which is infecting the machines’ programming. This is a very forward thinking concept and has real relevance today where viruses really do transfer from machine to machine. The fact the Chief Supervisor, played by a permanently worried looking Alan Oppenheimer, tells us the technicians don’t entirely understand how the robots function because they were mainly constructed by other machines is terrifying in its simplicity and is a theme which now occurs regularly in sci-fi. The authorities realise there is a problem, but refuse to shut down the resort. This too became a sci-fi staple, that corporate greed always trumps rational behaviour.
A tense piece of film making, full of deliberate western clichés. The performances are cliched too and that helps with the familiarity. Occasionally its quite amusing. The main two protagonists play at being baffled or overconfident when required. They seem to be sharing an unspoken underlying bromance, like Butch and Sundance, and help each other into and out of various western formulae with a knowing wink to each other as well as the audience. The scenes set in Medieval World are over the top, a bit like a bad Carry On film. Ooo, no, missus, it’s Up the Chastity Belt – with Dick van Patten replacing Frankie Howard and nowhere near as funny. Yul Brynner, working for a low salary, is superb as the one note, forceful, driven Gunslinger, a redesigned 404 robot, with state of the art audio and visual receptors. This is brilliantly amplified by the pixelated screen for the Gunslinger's vision and the stamping, crunching soundtrack which replicated footsteps, heartbeats and breathing. As the Gunslinger chases down Peter, I was immediately reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger's remorselessness in The Terminator. You’ll see the similarities.
Crichton’s very clever with his screenplay. It doesn’t expect too much of the audience. The workings of the Delos Amusement Park are revealed slowly and clearly. We understand the resort is breaking down; the manager’s don’t. The tension arises from who will discover the solution first. Ultimately nobody does. Most of the robots run out of battery power, but not before the technicians have suffocated inside their own automatically locked control centre – the virus has even infected their master computers – and almost every tourist has been slaughtered. Only Peter remains, battling an acid-scarred, flame-burnt, single-minded Gunslinger.
I wondered if Delos was deliberately, ironically, named after the Minoan island, supposedly a place of sanctuary for Greeks. There’s a brilliant shot of a fallen statue straddling a riverbed, the water splashing across the marble, trickling down the goddess’ face like tears. I also enjoyed the traditional western horseback pursuit, which was made all the more deadly by Brynner’s impassive Gunslinger, who rides past corpses without a glance, twists his whole neck to hear and see and walks with a scary, mechanical grace. The fact he’s an indestructible robot makes his inexpression all the more haunting and realistic. All the robots share a non-personality trait, yet as the virus spreads they begin to display aspects of genuine human emotion: revenge, fear, avarice and pain. Are the robot’s becoming human? The film doesn’t have many flashes of insight. Is Crichton deftly warning us about wish fulfilment? He’s certainly warning us about corporate greed, but the message is rather lost among the standard shootouts, fights and chases. The movie uses the MGM backlot for the sets and has up-to-scratch production values without ever being startlingly brilliant. The music score is a mixture of repetitive sounds and banjo fused country and western, which isn’t as odd as it might be given the bizarre setting.
I enjoyed the movie, although I can’t say it’s aged well. The sudden ending, with the advert replaying in Peter’s exhausted mind (“Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”) is a strong, very seventies finish. It feels open ended.
Unfortunately, I kept wondering, as does Peter, how a tourist was supposed to recognise a robot and although it is explained in terms of the Colt 45s [sensors prevent the guns being fired at a human] it doesn’t explain the fisticuffs or sword fights where clearly one human can main another. I tried not to let it bother me, but I did keep thinking about this flaw through the whole runtime.
A nostalgia tinged ninety minutes of unfussy seventies sci-fi.
An open letter to Melissa McCarthy, after seeing her latest film, THUNDER FORCE, on Netflix:
Dear Ms. McCarthy:
You are an incredibly talented performer. You are hilarious and you have great comic timing, and you've shown in a couple of films that you have substantial dramatic chops. And I must say that in this film your scenes with Jason Bateman are fantastic--if the whole film had been about your character and his, it might have been a comedy masterpiece. But, please, for the love of God, STOP making films that are written and directed by your husband. You may love him, but he does not have your best interests at heart. He seems to think that you can carry a film despite a meandering plot, no funny jokes, and an inert supporting cast. And you've made a LOT of films with him. Please, for your own good, walk away.
TWO RODE TOGETHER
Two Rode Together is a John Ford western released in 1961, starring James Stewart in the lead role, supported by Patrick Wymark. The plot revolves around white people taken captive by the Comanche, and Stewart's character, marshall Guthrie McCabe being enlisted to join a mission to recover these captives.
The film has a curious mix of rather corny, slapstick humour (especially involving a tubby cavalry sergeant played by Andy Devine) and some of the darker themes and moments that I have seen in Ford's work. Whereas a film like The Searchers does have some lighter moments, the balance of light and dark is far, far better in that film than it is in Two Rode Together.
The film was apparently not one that Ford was enthusiastic about making, and was doing it purely as a director-for-hire and for a percentage of the box-office takings. The result is unsurprisingly not one of his stronger works but I think I approached it in a mood that I wanted to have a good time watching a western, and a good time I had (I was also enjoying a bottle of good wine that may also have played into the film's favour). If I were to go back and reassess the film more critically maybe I wouldn't be so kind to it, but in the moment that I watched it I found it pretty enjoyable. However, if I was to divide the Ford movies that I have seen into 3 tiers, Two Rode Together would probably be in the bottom tier. This was the first time James Stewart and John Ford worked together and the following year they made the excellent The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
For fun I have gone and divided the 11 John Ford movies I have seen into those 3 tiers.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
My Darling Clementine
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Two Rode Together
The Horse Soldiers
I'll look for the tier 1 + 2 movies I haven't watched already. Thanks!
I've not seen Two Rode Together. It sounds a little disappointing. Ford isn't one of my favourite directors. For me he lacks panache. He'll work well with a good script, but as he lacks intuitive style, he can't do much if the foundation stones are rocky.
Take a look at How Green Was My Valley for an example of his lesser work. Island in the Sky is an unusual, documentary style effort. Avoid Cheyenne Autumn if you disliked the slapstick. It has a horrid mid-section. The Lost Patrol still holds up well today.
Liberty Valance is a fantastic western, more subversive than The Searchers, although Wayne's parts are similar, I feel.
Thanks for the post
I've seen several excellent movies recently thanks to the TCM '31 Days of Oscar' going on right now. Some of the highlights, all movies that I've been meaning to watch for years but haven't seen for various reasons:
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1968). This was fantastic from beginning to end. A true actor's showcase of a film with everyone, even the extras, all delivering extraordinary work. Steiger and Poitier are both in top form with Steiger, in particular, giving one of the single greatest acting jobs that I've ever seen. I can see why he won best actor.
LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963). Another great Poitier film. A much funnier movie than I thought it was going to be. I went into it thinking that the plot sounded kinda weak but I was enthralled right from the beginning. Quite a charming film.
A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984). It's always great to watch a film with a real director calling the shots, and boy does David Lean deliver here. This was another film that I only knew by reputation and I was really amazed at just how good it was. I wasn't expecting the plot to be what it was but that was fine...I love surprises like that. Another film with absolutely top notch acting from everyone. I still can't believe that Judy Davis never became a huge, in demand star like Meryl Streep.
Another one that I saw outside of TCM:
SORCERER (1977). A pretty riveting and intense thriller that really had me on edge for the entire time. Quite a well made film considering the obviously difficult conditions of the production itself.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is an exceptional movie. Rod Steiger is excellent, Poitier is IMO even better. A very worthy Oscar winner. Incidently the Quincy Jones soundtrack is ace.
Not sure about A PASSSGE TO INDIA. Lean made some great movies - the list is too long to type - but this feels a bit like a greatest hits and bits. Alec Guinness is poorly cast and knows it. IMO it's too long. I think Ismael Merchant said he could have made it for a fraction of the cost and told it in 100 minutes. His partner James Ivory rather backed that up with HEAT AND DUST in 1982, which is IMO better.
An interesting couple of movies from the EoN stable this weekend:
BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967)
Underrated Harry Palmer spy yarn, which I think we've written about loads of times before. I like it - deficiencies and all - and I think Ed Begley makes a terrifically crazy villain. Nice scenery. Ken Russell directs (his first feature film ?) and already displays a sure touch and some neat camera trickery. Very sixties. Loved it.
I must revisit Barbel's thread on Harry Palmer.
THE RED BERET (1953)
A British war film predominantly made by Americans but at Shepperton. Part of Warwick films, the pre-EoN production company formed by Broccoli and Irving Allen. Richard Maibaum wrote the script. Terence Young directs. Julie Harris does the costumes. Ted Moore does the colour photography. Even Johanna Harwood does some script editing. A real pre-Bond production company piece then.
Alan Ladd plays an American undergoing a confidence crisis who joins up with the British Red Beret paratroopers (The movie was retitled PARATROOPER in the U.S.) and re-establishes his career through a series of civil and military disputes and actions, including the obligatory love affairs and a confrontation with a brutal squad commander. A good cast (Stanley Baker, bristling; Harry Andrews, always watchable; Leo Genn, assured and very young looking}. Good action sequences. they made this kind of actioner loads in the fifties and its good without ever threatening to win awards. Apparently it cost £700,000 to make and grossed over £7million, so a very good return. It's often forgotten Alan Ladd was one of the biggest box-office stars of the late 40s and early 50s. This cements his prime role as an action hero.
Apparently it's based on a non-fiction novel of the same name relating Operation Biting, a successful parachute raid on a radar installation in Northern France. The raid was led by Johnnie Frost, famously played by Anthony Hopkins in A Bridge Too Far, which of course starred our own Sean Connery. The action is transplanted to north Africa for no discernible reason.
I am laid up at the moment - pulled a calf muscle - and spending time reading, writing and watching telly. so,
THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957)
A big blustering historical epic based on C.S. Forster’s Napoleonic era novel The Gun, set during the Peninsula Wars. Cary Grant stars as a British naval captain sent to Spain to retrieve a huge cannon. He allies himself to and comes into conflict with Frank Sinatra’s gypsy Miguel and his band of cutthroats who want to take the enormous gun to Avila, his home city, and save the imprisoned peasants there. Cue two hours of slogging through sun and rain, rivers and mud, sweat and toil. It’s a torturous journey and a fairly unpleasant experience for the viewer too. Sporadic excitement comes through a well photographed knife-fight – the blades of a windmill cutting across the action like the scythes in the combatant’s fists – and a French army ambush along a winding canyon pass. The rest is all smouldering looks and significant dialogue made insignificant by the relative disinterest of its stars.
Cary Grant was never good in costume dramas. He looks very uncomfortable in the sailor’s uniform: a jacket and trousers which miraculously launders itself mid-scene. So too Sinatra, also not good in period films; he spends most of his time looking bored and standing with his hands in his pockets. There are no sparks between him and his antagonists and even less with his mistress, played with due astonishment by Sophia Loren. She tries to runs off with Cary Grant, which reflected real life when they began an obsessive affair during the film shoot. It was a little too obsessive for Loren, who dumped the British star in favour of her Italian agent, the producer Carlo Ponti. She plays Juana as a strangely delicate heroine, when her character should be hard and forceful, to match Sinatra’s tactless, bruising Miguel. Her clothes also remain startlingly immaculate.
Sinatra considered himself miscast – he is – and took the role only to stay close to his wife, Ava Gardner, who was filming The Sun Also Rises in Spain at the same time. Disillusioned with the movie and with his marriage, Sinatra cut short his contract and some of his scenes were shot back in L.A. against pre-recorded backdrops. The rest of the cast is defined mostly by sneers and attempts at humour or cod-philosophy. No actor comes out of this mess with much credit.
Production-wise there isn’t a lot to be said for this kind of ill-advised hokum. It looks spectacular, if muddy. Exactly how cameraman Franz Planer made Spain look so drab is a mystery. There is a whole sequence set next to a hive of windmills which is a wonderful, rustic setting, spoilt by the creaking and whistling which reverberates across the soundtrack, burying and ruining any dialogue. Costumes are standard peasant fare. The music is overpowering. The score inhabits almost the whole running time and becomes an annoyance. I thought it might have worked better as a ballet piece; when I researched the film, I discovered composer George Antheil based the music on two of Ravel’s Spanish themed orchestral works – surprise, surprise. The gun itself is manoeuvred through increasingly unlikely situations and we don’t believe for a minute the thing is made of anything more robust than cedar wood.
Amazingly, Stanley Kramer was nominated by the Director’s Guild of America for his efforts. He was never a great director, although his films are always interesting and tend to introduce a moral or conscientious theme. That aspect is lacking here which perhaps explains the movie’s failure. I suppose if you like your epics big and windy and without much thought, you’ll like this, but I found it dreary and leaden. Not even a cracking climatic siege can save this one.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (2018)
An unsuccessful sequel to the successful adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which David Fincher made in 2011 with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as the leads. The movie isn’t even based on Larsen’s own sequels, but a spin off written by David Lagercrantz after the original author’s untimely death. That should have set alarm bells ringing at production H.Q. That it didn’t suggests the producers deserve all the criticism they got for this hollow enterprise.
This time out, Clair Foy is the charmless heroine Lisbeth Salander. I can’t remember anyone else on the cast list; they were all unmemorable. Oh, sorry, Stephen Merchant pops up as a nervy computer genius, whose nuclear weapons control program Fire Fall is a despot’s dream. This plot thread was about the only interesting point to the longwinded story.
Anyway, Larsson’s unique heroine was an investigative cyberhacker come vigilante, a whizz with the geeks and a good foil for the staid and cautious Mikael Blomquist, a journalist after a story which doesn’t exist. The first book, while overlong on technobabble and the life histories of insignificant characters, defined their dependent and independent relationship. Fincher too attempted to replicate that and just about succeeded. There is nothing so refined here. The film is so bloody, gung ho and crammed with action, death, explosions and ‘tensions’ the producers may as well have called the thing Atomic Swede or Tattooed Sparrow; Salander is more like a female Jason Bourne, ass-kicking her way around Sweden with little consideration for anything but her own motivations. She even gets saddled with a sibling rivalry that tries to outdo James Bond’s from Spectre.
The film is toneless. There’s no subtlety or grace. The plot was too convenient and the movie lacked all rudiments of mystery. A couple of neat surprises can’t deflect from the unsteady flood of violent incidents. I was bored with it all well before the climax. Everyone got killed; that’s about all you need to know. Fede Alvarez is a Uruguayan director. I know nothing about him other than that, but he ought to be ashamed.
HUD (1963) with Paul Newman, Patricia Neal, and Melvyn Douglas.
I've been meaning to watch this one forever. Just...WOW. As an exploration of toxic masculinity, it's a pretty fascinating film. The fact that you actually kinda LIKE the character of Hud is a real credit to Paul Newman's charisma and acting prowess because a lesser actor would not have been able to make this kind of character work. As great as Paul is, he's supported by other actors doing career best work, especially Patricia Neal. I've always kinda liked her but she's next level amazing here.
Really a quality piece of work.
I saw "Hud" on TV many years ago, probably in the 80s. I remember it was good and I hope to watch it again.
DEAD RECKONING (1947)
An odd an unsatisfactory film noir starring the ever excellent Humphrey Bogart. Here Bogie plays an ex-paratrooper Captain whose best army pal, Johnny Drake, is due at the White House for a commendation but skips off the train to Washington. Annoyed and intrigued, Bogart’s character, Rip Murdoch, tracks him down to Gulf City – only to find he’s too late – Drake has been burnt to a crisp in an automobile ‘accident.’ Certain there is more to the death than meets the obvious eye, Murdoch uncovers Drake’s duplicitous character and a murderous past, which he determines to resolve.
I could go on regaling you with plot twists and turns, but there’s little point. The main reason for watching this ineffectual thriller is Bogart, who plays a slightly less robust role than normal. He still gets into plenty of scraps though and still manages to pull the girl. Here she’s called Dusty Chandler, inhabited by Lisbeth Scott, doing her best Lauren Bacall impersonation. This film would have been twice as good with Bacall and Bogart to watch. Scott however is a non-entity of an actress. She tries to smoulder, but just comes across as wet and simpering. She’s not so much heartless as no heart-at-all, just dull to look at and listen to. Her conniving is obvious because she’s such a one note performer we don’t believe she can be anything but a gangster’s bored moll.
The best of the support cast is Morris Carnovsky as the underworld kingpin Martinelli. He’s as smooth and slick an operator as you might find in a film noir. I love that he abhorred violence, yet employs a thug [thugs?] to do oodles of dirty work for him. He’s believably astute and unruffled, which makes him borderline scary. In fact the villains and their hangers on – Dusty Chandler aside – are quite an interesting bunch. Martinelli, Krausse (a psychopath), McGee (a collector of live war armaments), Louis (nervy bartender and victim) and even the amusing maid, Hyacinth, display more character than the femme fatale. Scott’s a very flawed piece of essential casting.
The film’s got an okay script, but director John Cromwell doesn’t do very much with it. The action in parts is quite risqué, which maybe shoved it up a certificate: arson, adultery, murder, beatings, etc. Occasionally it’s amusing, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. It has a ridiculously easy resolution and an unlikely escape for our hero. Production values are good. There’s a massive goof regarding Murdoch’s facial injuries which disappear in seconds. It’s not a long film, but it feels like a long film. The good scenes are almost always spoilt by Lisbeth Scott. You sense Bogart isn’t even trying – he’s just combining elements of his more worthy roles – and he’s knocking the acting socks off pretty much everyone.
The photographer is Leo Tover and he shrouds a lot of the scenes with a curious dark soft border. I initially thought this was supposed to represent actual time as opposed to flashbacks, but it wasn’t. This made watching the movie an irritating experience for the eyes as I had to focus on the very centre of the screen, but found my viewing drawn to the borders under which I couldn’t see any action.
The movie lacks a positive driving force and you sense everyone was going through the motions. I do think Dead Reckoning would have benefitted from starring Lauren Bacall; she would have brought some icy urgency and warm infernal passion to the role of Dusty and of course she’d sparked brilliantly with Bogart. Unfortunately this was a Colombia picture and Bacall was under contract at Warner Bros; so was Bogart but they loaned him, which annoyed the studio’s biggest star no end up. Under the circumstances, I think his performance is remarkable. Pity he’s working with the kind of crew he negotiated all those late-thirties mobster movies with.
A lost opportunity. Interestingly unsuccessful.
'The Way Ahead'. This Is an excellent film which tells the story of a group of men who are called up for army service with the British Army in WW2. David Niven (from Casino Royale 1967) plays the officer. It is available to watch for free on You Tube and I recommend it to anyone who likes films of that type.
EDIT: This is a trailer of the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h2jq38M2_s
THIS WHOLE FREVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
THE SWIMMER (1968)
The writer John Cheever’s 1964 masterpiece The Swimmer is arguably one of the twentieth century’s greatest short stories. It follows Ned Merrill as he embarks on a ludicrous swim across the county via a series of swimming pools, taking him from his friends the Westerhazy’s through a series of increasingly forlorn encounters until he arrives at his dilapidated mansion and readers – if they haven’t figured it out already – understand he’s actually a dead, or a dying man, and the story has been played out in his imagination.
The beauty of Cheever’s story, in addition to its spartan, elaborately pointed prose and fluid dialogue, is the connection the author makes between losing life and losing memory. As he progresses along his peculiar journey, Merrill learns more about himself and his family, how they were perceived, loved and hated. His memories, imparted through his reactions to each situation, are not the same as those of his friends, enemies and lovers. He’s made mistakes, sometimes fatal ones, and now, as an older or dying man, he’s realising how his actions are interpreted by others, how he has affected their lives, directly or indirectly, how his definition of the American Dream is false and inappropriate. This is achieved with great subtlety.
Director Frank Perry – who was replaced by Sydney Pollack after clashing with just about everyone – lacks this subtlety and the resulting movie, which is much expanded from the original twelve page story, is rather heavy handed. Curiously inexplicit, The Swimmer is a dreamy, fantastical film, where a man wanders seemingly at will from house to house clad only in blue bathing trunks, discovering clues to his condition at every stop. There are some wonderful observations about life and love. Merrill’s discussions with the beautiful almost angelic Julie, where he learns she had a schoolgirl crush on him are particularly effective. The suggestion she’s promiscuous is hinted it, but not enforced. Having described how she saw a naked man from her office window, Merrill says she ought to report it in case the man exposes himself again; “Oh, no, he hasn’t,” she replies, “I check every day.” When Merrill makes a play for her, it’s done in such an archaic polite manner, she gets scared and runs away; what she really wanted was a moment of sudden bliss, like the kiss she describes in an elevator. This is the first indication we have that something is wrong in Merrill’s world.
Later on, Merrill tries to replicate his time with Julie by approaching the older, wiser Joan [played by Joan Rivers] but she’s too astute to fall for his chivalric romantic suggestions. He’s now reached a point where no one even listens to him. In between is sandwiched a short significant moment when Merrill notices the trees are blossoming out of season. His money has also become unwelcome; he doesn’t of course have any and has not had for many years. The film contains more revelations and you can spend acres of time picking each scene apart, analysing the dialogue forever, until you have the evidence to support your case. But it is a bit of a one-note case. Once you’ve decided Merrill’s predicament, you won’t discover anything new in any of the vignettes.
It’s for this reason that the penultimate scene, where Merrill confronts his ex-mistress Shirley Abbott, played with much abrasion by Janice Rule, feels over wrought and clunky. It is overlong and overly melodramatic compared to what came before. It isn’t so much subtle than down-right impenetrable. This scene is obviously one of the reshoots as it is filmed on a studio set, not on location.
The climatic take is equally confusing as the audience is given no reason to suppose Merrill was on anything more than a journey of discovery, even though his house lies derelict. Perry [or Pollack] pans from a distraught Merrill to a living room window and the audience sees the house is empty and has been for years; then the camera pans back [it’s the same shot, they simply rewound it] and we see Merrill is still at the door. This doesn’t so much add a layer of texture as smother the whole thing in confusion. How can Merrill be alive? How can he be in this situation? All the carefully constructed, dream-like sequences, the inquisitive, provocative dialogues, all which came before, now becomes irrelevant. Instead we are only concerned with what kind of trick is being played on us. It’s a dispiriting ending because it demonstrates that the writers – rewriters? – or the director – directors? – failed to grasp the meaning of Cheever’s story.
Burt Lancaster is excellent as Ned Merrill. It’s one of his best performances and he’d wanted to film the story since he first read it, so he rewards his long literary love affair with the piece of work which it deserves. The very photogenic Janet Langard [what ever happened to her?] is equally fine as Julie and Janice Rule tears up the screen as the spurned lover. I enjoyed the offbeat style of the camerawork and the stop-start nature of the character interaction. This latter aspect in particular is a good representation of what you experience reading Cheever’s original dialogues. Marvin Hamlisch’s debut film score is trifle over-orchestrated. The screenwriter Eleanor Perry does deserve some credit for preserving the skeleton of Cheever’s work, but I’m not sure the expansions necessarily add anything more to the narrative.
The Swimmer is a failed masterpiece. As usual with these major studio art-house pieces, it was much more highly regarded in Europe and now has a cult following and exceptional retrospective reviews. I don’t think it’s that good. My personal recommendation is to read the short story and fall in love with the multi-layered hallucinations of John Cheever’s prose.
'Some people can see The Swimmer and see a road movie with swimming pools... the others discern the existential meaning of life...'
BULLET TO BEIJING (1995)
MIDNIGHT IN ST PETERSBURG (1996)
Caught these on the same day on Sony Action channel. Michael Caine gives about as good a performance as he can given the shoddy scripts of these two belated Harry Palmer sequels. They're not terrible movies.
Bullet to Beijing has a very strong cast and a good plot which does tie itself in knots at the very end. I was reminded of The Living Daylights as the gist of the villain's plan seems to be not about selling biological warfare secrets but about exporting heroin for massive profit. I got thoroughly lost and it seemed very strange to have three cohorts of people working for the same person none of whom are aware the others exist. The scenes on the bullet train where Palmer uncovers the secret cache of weapons in a packing case in the cargo car reminded me of an old Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movie where they keep opening coffins on a train in the search for a fantastic diamond. There was good scene setting in London and a fun speedboat chase in St Petersburg's canals. I liked the surprising reveal at the end. I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it. The movie should really have ended there.
Midnight in St Petersburg sees Harry Palmer running a detective agency in Russia, which takes a leap of faith even for post-glasnost Russia. This one was about art works stolen from the Hermitage, a kidnap plot and Chechen rebels - I think. To be honest, I was rather bored. It lacked any understandable plot and the actors who returned from the first film (Caine, Michael Gambon, Jason Connery, Michael Sarrazin, Anatoli Davidov, Lev Prygonov) looked bored this time out.
Both movies were written by producer Harry Alan Towers under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck. Towers was well known in the industry for making expensive sounding movies on the cheap. He certainly does that here. Money saving devices such as the director's wife starring as the villainess (Douglas and Tanya Jackson), filming the movies back-to-back with virtually he same crew, locations, costumes, etc are in evidence.
Neither film disgraces itself, but they don't do much for the legacy of Len Deighton's working class spy. Deighton's name is attached to both movies only because Towers used his lead character.
I ought to review these properly with the books and the three earlier movies under Barbel's Sixties Spy thread, but when I investigated purchasing the Harry Palmer box-set, that once £25 five-disc album was being retailed at £118! I think that project will wait a while.
THE BEACH (2000)
Pretentious Thai-set cinematic utopian nonsense from director Danny Boyle based on a pretentious bestselling novel by Alex Garland, clearly influenced by William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and lacking all the moral fibre.
The wife and I are currently working our way through all four of the AIRPORT movies. We did AIRPORT (1970) and AIRPORT '75 (1974) already with the remaining two films on deck.
They're...interesting. I don't know if I'd ever seen the first film but the three sequels I HAVE seen (but not since the early 80s). They are definitely products of their time and I don't know if they're holding up all that well.
my favourite is the sequel where they say "roger, Roger" and "clearance, Clarence" and "looks like I chose the wrong day to quit sniffing glue"
Both of the AIRPORT movies that I've seen so far have plenty of elements which were spoofed in AIRPLANE! It was funny to watch and go 'aaaaah, that's where the whole sick kid thing came from!'
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)
There are a lot of long tales surrounding The Lady from Shanghai, the chief one of which is the movies’ plot. Hopelessly convoluted, Orson Welles’ film noir has flashes of outright brilliance in it, coupled with moments of absurdity which try an audience’s patience. Welles forever blamed Colombia studio boss Harry Cohn, claiming he mutilated the film and insisted on so many retakes the original underbudget project went over budget and suffered production and editing delays. Finished initially in late 1946, it was finally released to mixed reviews in 1948.
The movie is based on a pulp fiction novel If I Die Before I Wake by Raymond Sherwood King. According to which story you prefer, Welles had either never read it or had it thrust upon him by producer William Castle. It is true he desperately needed cash to fund his expensive theatre project Around the World. Whether Welles made a faithful adaptation of the novel is hardly relevant as any film he directed becomes an ‘Orson Welles movie’ and features trademark inspirations and innovations as well as lacklustre moments, often but not always due to studio interference.
This example is rightly praised for its location shooting in Acapulco, New York and San Francisco. It also features a stunning climax at a fairground Palace of Mirrors, which has passed into cinematic legend and been reinterpreted by filmmakers ever since. The three minute sequence is superbly realised, haunting, bewildering and terror ridden. Such a pity this tour de force comes at the end of a hopelessly unwieldy narrative which tries to outdo Raymond Chandler with its twists and turns and unlikely dead-ends.
Welles plays Irish seaman Michael O’Hara. The movie is seen through his eyes and he delivers a bitter, prescient, poetic narration which seems both out of character yet befitting of the gloomy narrative. The opening line betrays it all: “When I start out to make a fool of myself, there’s very little can stop me. If I’d known where it would end, I’d never let anything start.” O’Hara falls in love with Elsa Bannister after saving her from a mugging in New York. Her wealthy, drunken, husband is a top-grade lawyer and he persuades O’Hara to sail their yacht on a cruise to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. During the trip, O’Hara agrees to falsely murder Bannister’s partner, Grisby, who will collect a huge insurance pay out. O’Hara hopes to use his fee ($5000) to elope with Elsa, who has seduced him during a series of on and off board contretemps. The plan goes badly wrong and O’Hara ends up in court. He escapes and Elsa takes him to Chinatown to hide, only for Bannister to follow them and provoke a fatal confrontation.
That’s the basic gist of it, but there’s a whole baffling middle section where the murder plan is explained, re-explained, thwarted and enacted, the wrong people are killed, the legal arguments are nonsense – the film basically becomes impossible to follow. This may have been deliberate, yet the court room scenes unbalance the picture, being an excuse for ironic comedy at the expense of the American Justice System. The scene where Everett Sloane’s Arthur Bannister cross-examines himself is not only contrived and stupidly contrived, it also lacks any humour, despite the courthouse attendees rollicking in laughter.
There is however much to admire. Welles’ cameraman was nominally Charles Lawton Jr, but Rudolph Mate did a lot of work in the reshoots and was responsible for framing the brilliant, acerbic close ups of the bitter rivals and lovers as they get drunk and debate life and death on Bannister’s yacht. The film feels dark, even during the day time. The sunset shots of San Francisco’s Chinatown are excellent and the scenes in the Kabuki Theatre are full of menace, represented by the soulless masked actors who glower out from the stage, seeming to know everything about the extra play which is unfolding before them. Sergio Leone used a similar setting for a scene in Once Upon A Time In America – Leone was possibly the greatest cinematic thief – Tarantino’s constant homages to Leone mark him as merely a thief of a thief. I was also reminded of Polanski’s seminal thriller Chinatown, which has a bitter twist to it akin to O’Hara’s [Welles’?] final confrontation.
The production values are very high. The location footage gives the film a fabulous look missing from a great many greater forties films. The yacht was Errol Flynn’s – he sailed it and he and Welles spent many nights imbibing themselves on the local hooch – and the Palace of Mirrors is a production designer’s dream. Several scenes are filmed to highlight the darkness of the characters; Welles or Sloane often wear white linen suits, which stand out against their darkened faces in the natural or reduced lighting. These men truly stare out of the darkness. There’s another fabulous scene in the ’Frisco Aquarium which is shot through the fish tanks, the actors in silhouette. The costumes are swell and Rita Hayworth, shorn of her luscious long hair, auburn painted bleached blonde, looks absolutely divine. Why wouldn’t a hot blooded Irishman fall for her, especially after the come-on she gives him: “If you’re a sailor, there’s a job for you… We’re short a man on the crew. I’ll make it worth your while.” Hayworth is phenomenally good in the role, playing the scheming, yet seemingly virtue-full wife, with just the right amount of sophistication, boredom, sensuality and courageous naivety.
It’s disappointing the whole doesn’t seem to quite add up to a collective success. For all the good points on show, the film ultimately struggles to fulfil its promises. The perplexing middle section and the quick ending do it no favours what so ever. The arrest and trial aspects should have been deleted and the character studies expanded; O’Hara should carry out his own investigations rather than stumbling blindly into the resolution.
The Lady from Shanghai was listed in the British Film Institutes Top 10 movies of all time as recently as 2012, but I think it scores a lot of points for its brooding look and Welles’ stylised narration, for there is quite a hefty slice out of place. It is though essential viewing for any fan of film noir as it features all the prerequisite shadows and light, pessimism and profundities, fatalities and fatalistic melodramas you expect.
Highly watchable even given its troubled history.
Lovely write-up, Chris, makes me want to watch it again (been many years).
I watched one of those films (the one featuring 'Concorde') I thought it was a comedy.
Concorde is flying from the US to Europe. On board is someone who has information that will prove a big arms dealer is guilty of crimes which I can't remember, so he decides the plane must be destroyed. He fires a heat seeking missile at Concorde and the next few minutes are spent with Concorde doing aerobatics as it tries to outrun the missile! Inside the passengers are being thrown about all over the place! Unable to shake the missile, the pilot (I think he's supposed to be an ex military pilot) opens the cockpit window and fires a flaregun. The flare distracts the missile and Concorde escapes! I believe four red hot jet engines would produce more heat than a flare, but that didn't stop the writers. I turned off at that point when I realised that the film was actually supposed to be serious!
THE PINK PANTHER (2006)
On its release, Steve Martin’s attempt to reboot Blake Edward’s creaking franchise about the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau was very successful, even if the critics hated it. Martin is a solid and commendable comic actor. His record speaks for itself and he remains popular despite many black marks on his C.V. Many of Martin’s most accessible roles have come in comedy remakes [Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride] so it was reasonable to assume this task would succeed as well.
Clouseau, however, is a difficult character to inhabit, so memorable was Peter Sellers in the role. Alan Arkin attempted it in an ill-fated and rarely seen 1968 spin-off. Roberto Begnini also gave it a shot in the torturous Son of the Pink Panther. I’m no fan of Peter Sellers. His best roles were his early ones, controlled, character driven pieces. Once fame landed, directors seemed less inclined to reign in his indulgent antics; Blake Edwards actively encouraged it. The first two Panther films are good. I watched them recently. My memories of the latter three are not so pleasurable. Return of… was a particularly dire example, enlivened not by Sellers but by Christopher Plummer as the suave jewel thief, the Phantom, and the delectable Catherine Schell, who admirably kept a straight face.
There’s no Phantom here, but there are a lot of very straight faces, or rather they are knowing faces. The starry cast is admirable. Director Shaun Levy is clever enough not to attempt to replicate the Edwards / Sellers dynamic. Instead he creates an almost completely new buffoon suitable for a twenty-first century audience, but not forgetting the comedy of yesteryear. Things are set on fire, people get wet, accidents happen, Clouseau chooses the most ridiculous schemes to attempt anything, he’s conceited yet curiously loveable. There’s a recurring joke where he believes every room is bugged. He breaks a large human-sized globe, which rolls on catastrophically forever. A scene where he attempts to identify a person by their footsteps and another where the Inspector plays both roles in a good cop / bad cop routine are prime example of this new Clouseau’s [Martin’s] idea of detective brilliance. His attempt to seduce Beyonce’s singing star is pure Steve Martin [not Sellers] yet nods affectionately to the former’s character’s lack of success in romance. It’s also nice to remember Beyonce before she got so famous and serious. Here she’s just bootylicious. [Sorry, I had to write that…] Emily Mortimer provides another cute comic-romantic distraction. The best comedic double-act is between Clouseau and his assistant Ponton, a stone faced Jean Reno; probably the consistent highlight of the movie. If anyone goes over the top, it’s Kevin Kline as Dreyfuss. We’ve seen too much of Kline impersonating his Oscar winning role from A Fish Called Wanda and this is yet another reinterpretation of that. There’s neat cameos from Clive Owen as British agent Zero-Zero-Six [“You’re one digit short of the big man,” quips Clouseau] and Jason Statham is the murder victim. For some reason both go uncredited.
Nothing much really surprises here. The movie looks good, is fun, harmless and shares much of the same ground for embarrassing situational humour as the originals. If the eventual resolution has all the ham fisted silliness of a Hercule Poirot ‘reveal’, then I rather enjoyed that too. It’s easy to criticise this version of The Pink Panther, but it succeeds far more than it fails and Steve Martin offers a commendable reload of a classic comedy character.
THE PINK PANTHER 2 (2009)
The sequel to the reboot of The Pink Panther makes all the mistakes I mentioned regarding Blake Edwards’ original sequels starring Peter Sellers. Here star Steve Martin is barely held in check by director Harald Zwart and over indulges himself in long extended scenes of physical or verbal antics. Chief offence is the flamenco dance sequence which results in the complete destruction of a restaurant, but the ‘hamburger’ scene is equally dire.
A long and starry cast looks completely ill-at-ease. John Cleese is a good shout for Chief Inspector Dreyfuss, but the script gives him nothing to do expect gawp at the screen. Lily Tomlin’s behaviour therapist seems introduced only because Steve Martin works well with her, although any hope they can relight the sparkle of All of Me is rapidly extinguished. Aishwarya Rai looks fabulous as the villainess.
High production values can’t hide the fault lines. This is a dreadful experience and, after my kind words about the first movie, leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.
Good joke re Catherine Schell!
While Clive Owen is being 006, did you notice the Cubby Broccoli lookalike nodding approvingly? (Despite Cubby having passed some ten years previously.) This was IIRC before Craig was miscas... sorry, cast, and Owen was still in with a shout as far as was known.
Yes, totally agree that John Cleese was a good choice for Dreyfuss and perhaps better than Kline.
And totally agree that PP2 was much worse than its predecessor.