Richard Todd was a notable acting figure in the British film industry for roughly 15 years. He was Oscar-nominated for his first major role and then had a starring role in an Alfred Hitchcock film. From then on he was a reliable acting presence in array of action and war films giving convincing performances.
But his acting persona and style had fallen out of favour by the mid-1960s as kitchen-sink dramas and 'Swinging London' type films became popular. The drying up of roles perhaps disorientated him as that's the only way one can explain his appearance in the American film 'The Love-Ins'.
The film is a cheap and tedious take on the counter-culture sweeping America at the time. What is surprising is for an exploitation picture, apart from an 'Alice In Wonderland' LSD sequence, it's not even entertaining as camp.
But the film's most dispiriting aspect is Todd's performance. In the central role of playing a supposedly Timothy Leary-like figure that captures the hearts and minds of San Francisco youth, Todd is totally unconvincing and displays none of the charisma or personality such a role required. His inability to even attempt to adjust his usual acting style just underlines how miscast he is.
In a career with many quality films and performances, this is a sad career low.
The comedy farce 'She'll Have To Go' about a pair of brothers who - when their indulgent lifestyle is threatened - plan murder, starts off quite brightly.
The dialogue between the brothers and their butler is fairly sharp and lively with some good chuckles to be had. Alas, director Asher doesn't seem to have confidence in the material as he inserts various 'wacky' visual tricks that are jarring and irritating.
In anycase the film gets weaker the longer it goes on. Notwithstanding Hattie Jaques' amusing performance, her journalist character could have easily been excised from the film without anything being lost. And the final 20 minutes or so are particularly tedious and dreary.
The film does gain an extra level of interest though with Anna Karina's presence and not just because she does well in her role. To see someone who is on the verge of becoming an icon of the cutting-edge French New Wave appear in an old-hat British stage farce mixed with a dollop of 'Carry On' style bawdy humour is curiously fascinating.
Cheap and conventional - but a passable timewaster
It's not surprising this crime melodrama reminds one of the series of 1960s Edgar Wallace 'B' movies as they're both made by the low-budget Merton Park Studios.
But while 'The Floating Dutchman' isn't inspired on any level, it's better than
the typical Wallace series movie because (even at only an hour's length) they were so routine and dreary they were tedious to get through.
That's because veteran director Vernon Sewell has enough skill to make this conventional and thin story moderately enjoyable to watch. For example with great efficiency he manages to set up the entire plot within the first 5 minutes.
That's not to say the film is not without its problems. Even at a short 74 minute running time the story drags on occasion.
And there are numerous issues with the plot. Basic events in the narrative like what happened to Rose Reid's brother remain unanswered.
As well, it seems hard to believe that for such an experienced criminal that Skinner never considers the possibility Dermot Walsh's character is really a cop; even though he's constantly told by colleagues that he can't be trusted!
And the biggest problem occurs at the end: even though Skinner is a major criminal the police have been after for years, when he's finally apprehended he has barely any police protection and escapes with laughable ease.
Despite those issues and the very low budget, 'The Floating Dutchman' is a decent enough timewaster.
Bright and likable at first, but a bit of a mess by the end
This film - a nostalgic look back at early 1960s America - initially has a lot going for it. The early scenes with single mother Kay Harris (Terri Garr) struggling with the pressures of troublemaking kids and an irascible aunt who leads the children into more mischief are amusing, fast-paced and generally engaging.
But once the plot switches to Kay inherting a rundown diner the film slowly goes downhill. The miracle narrative that takes over the film is predictable and uninteresting with an inept finale.
More significantly, too many new characters are introduced in the second half so that the film not only feels chaotic and messy, but that the central family we followed with interest in the first half feels like an afterthought. Especially so with Garr's character who becomes a supporting role in a film where she's supposedly the central character.
Overall, the film isn't too bad but should've been better than the afternoon TV timewaster that it is. Particularly so for the underrated Garr who after 15 years of impressive work saw her film career ebb away due to flops like this.
You would think a film with this cast, a promising plot and lots of action could be anything but one big yawn yet 'Avalanche Express' achieves it.
The death of director Mark Robson during production is often cited as a prime reason why this film misfired but - while obviously a tragic and difficult event for the film to deal with - Robson had directed several clunky & heavy-handed films in the previous decade and his best work was well behind him.
There's not much positive that can be said for the film, suffice to say that technically its use of real locations helps it a bit and the avalanche sequence is reasonably well done.
But apart from that the most notable feat of 'Avalanche Express' is that it somehow connives a dreary performance of the usually always compelling Lee Marvin.
'Memoirs of a Survivor' is a film that really can't be recommended. It's slow, obscure and poorly directed. One suspects that it would be a lot more interesting for people who've read the source novel but a film needs to exist on its own and the filmmaking isn't good enough to do it.
But despite it being largely tedious and dreary, in another way I found it mildly admirable. It makes no attempts to be a 'commercial' sci-fi film and wants to tell its odd story in its own way. While it isn't successful on that score, it maintains a sense of integrity.
I have similar feelings about Julie Christie and her performance. On one hand she plays such a passive, inert character that her significant talents are wasted. But in another way it's admirable that she decided to take such an unusual role in an ambitious film when she could've easily coasted along in Hollywood in bland big-budget blockbusters.
Overall, 'Memoirs of a Survivor' is a failure as a film, but its effort and ambition are to be admired.
Forgettable and technically sloppy but good fun for Moore fans
This story of a suave ad exec (Roger Moore) getting caught up in an assassination plot never reaches great heights. As well, the film is blighted by cheap special effects, especially the regular use of obvious rear projection that makes scenes like the death of the chief villain in the action finale laughable instead of captivating.
Despite all that, the film is a fun timewaster. This is partly because the film's plot is fast-paced and inventive enough to keep one interested and the location footage of London (when they're not using rear projection) right at the end of the Swinging Sixties is fascinating to see.
But the film's main asset is Moore. While he was never perceived as a great actor, he always had plenty of charisma and charm and he utilises that to be a likable roguish hero who helps keep one interested throughout.
While no classic, 'Crossplot' is a pleasant diversion and especially interesting to see why the producers of James Bond thought Moore would be a good fit for the role.
It's hard to believe that a writer like David Williamson, who wrote terrific screenplays for films like "The Club" and "Don's Party" could make a dull film. It's hard to believe that director Tim Burstall, who'd collaborated with Williamson on the flawed but fascinating "Petersen", could make a dull film.
But unfortunately "Duet For Four" is a dull film.
This drama about a middle-aged businessman dealing with overseas takeover attempts, his ex-wife, troubled daughter and current partner seems potentially interesting but none of Williamson's usual incisiveness or Burstall's bluntness is on display.
It just ambles from one narrative incident to another without much passion or purpose. One suspects if DFF had been made in the mid-1970s it would've reflected the tumult, upheaval and radicalisation of that era and a more impassioned film would've resulted. But instead it feels complacent and safe.
That's not to say DFF is a horrible film. It's fairly easy to watch and has an interesting cast, including Diane Cilento in one of her rare post-1970 roles.
But overall this is a forgettable film and one of Williamson's weakest screenplays.
Gets the little details wrong; gets the big details right
At surface level it would be easy to dismiss 'Night Of The Generals' because from a purely cinematic perspective it has a lot of flaws:
* Some rather stilted direction from Anatole Litvak * Flashbacks awkwardly and randomly inserted * Distraction of German characters speaking with a variety of non-German accents (including Gordon Jackson in his traditional Scottish accent!) * Unnecessary scenes (such as Christopher Plummer's cameo as Rommel) that could've easily been excised
But on a broader level, NOTG is quite a fascinating film. Its observations on the importance of pursuing criminal acts even in wartime, how even those who commit heinous acts in wartime will be forgiven if they live long enough and the impact on individuals and general society WW2 even a generation onwards are quite profound.
In a funny way, if NOTG had been a slicker, smoother film it might have been less effective. It's so ambitious in the territory it covers and how it covers it that you genuinely don't know where the film will go next. As a result, the scene where Colonel Grau is murdered comes out of the blue and is genuinely shocking like few deaths I can recall seeing in a film.
To be sure, 'Night Of The Generals' is a far from perfect film. But in terms of a commentary on WW2 and its ramifications, its one of the best I've seen.
Even though they have a lousy reputation I've generally been a fan of Elvis Presley films. Many of them provide breezy, painless fun with some good songs thrown in.
Unfortunately, there's precious little entertainment in 'Frankie And Johnny' which is especially frustrating as a lot of the elements are there for a satisfying film such as a workable plot, good supporting cast and colourful sets.
But this feels boring and lifeless from the word go. Elvis deserves some of the blame as - apart from 'The Trouble With Girls' - I can't recall him giving such a dull performance.
But the real culprit is Frederick De Cordova who directs the film so lifelessly and lazily that the film never has a chance.
Take for example the finale where it's been set up by a supporting character that in their staged musical number Frankie will shoot Johnnie with a real bullet instead of a blank. She does shoot him and appears to have killed him but through a stroke of remarkable luck he is unharmed. All this and the culprit is forgotten 15 seconds later for the upbeat closing musical number!
Even amongst his mid to late 1960s work, you can do much better if you're searching for an Elvis film to watch.
With an acclaimed murder-mystery novel that had a great subversive, twist ending as its source, "Trent's Last Case" should've been cracking entertainment.
Alas, the director is Herbert Wilcox who had a lengthy and largely successful career but even his popular films haven't aged well due to his pedestrian, uninventive style and he's a forgotten figure today.
His patented conservative, dreary direction largely sinks this film almost immediately. The early segment at the coroner's inquest is so boring one struggles to maintain interest. The film does improve a bit though once Trent begins to investigate and challenge the official version of events.
And there are some nice performances from a very good cast. Orson Welles displays another of his vivid characterisations in his brief role. John McCallum gives an impressive performance as someone with plenty to hide; his facial reactions when Trent reveals he knows most of his secrets makes the scene quite compelling.
However, overall this film is a major disappointment. The final scene which tries to be both a revelation of who the actual murderer was AND be a romantic ending is especially poorly handled.
A look at the credits for this film suggest that this should've been one of the prime British films of the decade. A quality cast led by Glynis Johns, Donald Sinden and Peter Finch, a screenwriter (Nigel Bachin) who had written the excellent drama 'Mandy' and helmed by the famed producer/director combo Boulting Brothers at the peak of their careers.
And yet, while 'Josephine And Men' should be an entertainingly light, frothy comedy, it turns out to be a stagy, silly, flat misfire.
A big problem seems to be that the Boulting brothers are atypically for this period aren't directing one of their own scripts. Their style of comedy was usually satirical and full of cartoonish characters; with a comic romantic script they seem totally lost and the film never comes to life.
The quality cast is largely left floundering with their characters and a silly plot. Peter Finch (who would do much better in 'Simon And Laura' from the same year) is especially wasted.
Only some nicely delivered one-liners from Jack Buchanan deliver any spark.
This tense drama - about a disturbed man locked in his apartment room wanted by the police and seemingly in an untenable situation - is quite unusual in its structure.
Apart from the studio and title of the film, there are no opening credits. There is no background music and the film takes place in 'real time'. These are challenging restrictions for a film but director Don Chaffey does a largely splendid job.
The secret to the film's success is that it doesn't excessively focus on the central character (played by Richard Attenborough in his typically intense, brooding style) but places him in the context of the law, support organisations and ordinary citizens (represented by other tenants of the building).
The film deftly creates a range of characterisations who either want to help or apprehend 'the man upstairs' or just have him out of their way for their own personal reasons. It highlights how a character in the plight that Attenborough's is in is reliant on sensible, selfless and practical measures by those around him to not potentially ruin his life.
While not a classic, 'The Man Upstairs' is a fine film, worth seeking out.
In many ways, watching "Percy's Progress" is a depressing experience.
Not only because it was a failure as a comedy, but that the quality cast it assembled and capable director/producer team had seen much better days and illustrated how much of a rut the UK film industry was in the mid-1970s
The film's humour, a predictably endless series of double-entendres, is generally tedious.
Having said that, it could've been worse and is a slight improvement on the original 1971 film, "Percy".
This is because "Percy" tried to have it's cake and eat it too; be both a low-brow sex comedy and a serious analysis of the central character's predicament (and unsuccessful on both counts). This resulted in star Hywel Bennett's sad sack performance which belonged in another film.
At least "Percy's Progress" doesn't pretend it's anything other than a bawdy sex comedy and is a bit livelier than it's predecessor. It's farcical elements aren't particularly funny, but at least it's trying.
And there are minor pleasures in the performances. As the central character (although actually playing a different person from the first film technically), Leigh Lawson is an improvement on Bennett and is a fairly amiable rogue of a character.
And there are inevitable minor pleasures from a strong cast, including Corbett in an enjoyable performance as a Harold Wilson- type PM. And any film that has Vincent Price in it is always raised a level or two.
But overall, apart from being curio of 1970s UK cinema, this is a film not worth seeking out.
It's a pity 'The Passionate Stranger' isn't better as - by the standards of English 1950's mainstream cinema - it has some interesting and daring ideas.
Having a fantasy sequence (based on a manuscript written by the lead female character) takes up virtually half the film; quite a bold move when the easy option would be to devote 10-15 minutes to it. The fantasy sequence is filmed in colour while the 'real' sequence is in black & white - it's very rare to find a film from any era split in this format.
And the attempts to say something on the contrast between the florid melodrama in romantic literature and how the subtleties of real married life are potentially much richer have great potential.
Alas, 'The Passionate Stranger' doesn't really work. The sluggish fantasy sequence in particular is a weakness as it could've been told in half the time.
And there are too many sloppy & unconvincing aspects to the narrative. Considering he has limited English skills, how is Carlo (Carlo Giustini) able to read an entire novel manuscript so quickly and ably? Why couldn't Judith (Margaret Leighton) put even a slight effort to not make her 'Mario' character somewhat different from Carlo?
Weakest of all, the entire post-fantasy closing segment is reliant on the Carlo completely changing his personality on the basis of a fiction manuscript. His going from a sincere, well-meaning personality to a lecherous and idiotic fool doesn't convince on any level; it also shows the film to have a rather patronising attitude to its 'foreign' character.
While not a success, 'The Passionate Stranger' isn't without its pleasures, in particular the performances of Leighton and Richardson (underused in this film), who create such an enjoyable dynamic as a couple in the 'real' section you wish there had been more of it.
Not bad, but badly missing the Bruce Beresford touch
When 'Emerald City' was released, expectations on it would presumably have been high. A quality cast including the underrated John Hargreaves, then young rising star Nicole Kidman and solid acting talent in Robyn Nevin and Chris Haywood.
But even more significant for that was that David Williamson had written it, based on his own play. And Williamson had as much box-office clout as anyone in the Oz film industry at the time, having helmed numerous successful films (sometimes based on his own plays) ranging from Don's Party to Phar Lap.
Alas, when released in 1988 the film was a disappointment as it received little critical praise, minimal box office and was quickly forgotten. Why was this?
What lets it down is that instead of feeling like a film on its own terms, it feels like a filmed version of the play. The theatrical style comes through in the overacting and the lack of a cinematic feel, so therefore it feels like actors acting instead of characters behaving and interacting. As a result the potential impact is muted.
The blame for this is largely at director Michael Jenkins, whose career was largely in TV and it shows. His efforts here pale in comparison to that of Bruce Beresford, who made excellent films out of two David Williamson plays in Don's Party & The Club.
Despite that, the film is worth a look. Being a Williamson play, there are plenty of good lines and scenes with some occasional incisiveness at the artistic milieu the film concentrates on.
The four main actors are all entertaining to watch (although Hargreaves is a bit over-the-top at times), with probably the best performance by Robyn Nevin who makes her character multi-faceted and surprising and convincing.
'The Frightened City' stars both Sean Connery and Herbert Lom just before their iconic appearances in the Bond & Pink Panther series respectively (although Lom already had a substantial film career before The Pink Panther series).
But it wasn't the first time they appeared together, having appeared in 1957's 'Hell Drivers'. And it's this comparison that weakens TFC as while both films are similarly hard-nosed, rough-edged action films, HD is superior more interesting characters, compelling drama and more vivid action scenes.
That isn't to say TFC is a bad film - it's solidly entertaining with a good atmosphere and Connery displaying the charisma that was about to make him a major star (plus a nicely underplayed turn from Lom as the villain). But it's too conventional in its plotting and lacking great action scenes to be up to HD's level.
It's somewhat strange how this cheery and pleasing film has been almost totally forgotten today - perhaps in part despite its 'Swinging London' ethos that it was filmed in black & white?
Michael Winner's 1960s films were noted for their vivid and lively style, and it's a pity that when he moved to Hollywood in the early 1970s he seemed to lose that style and his films became defined by being dour, downbeat and often quite nasty.
Back to YMBJ, acting standouts include Lionel Jeffries who steals the film with his funny performance just as he did a few years previously with 'The Wrong Arm of the Law' and Terry-Thomas in a small but typically very amusing performance.
The film's finale is a bit messy and incoherent, but otherwise the film is full of good fun and laughs.
Disjointed, full of missed opportunities but not without interest
'The Oracle' is a frustrating film as the potential for a charming fantasy/comedy is there, but because of some odd narrative choices the film never really delivers.
The first half of the film is centred on a struggling newspaperman (Michael Medwin), whom on an holiday in a remote Irish town discovers it contains an oracle located down a well that is used by locals to solve everyday problems. Inevitably he begins using it to develop his own career.
Then, the second half of the film is largely based around the newspaper and its brash editor (Robert Beatty) dealing with the moral implications of providing information to the general public, especially when it comes to the question of whether another world war will result.
Both halves have some value. The first half has some charm with likable characters and picturesque Irish seaside setting. The second half deals with the moral and social implications of knowing the future in a relatively intelligent and serious manner.
But the two halves don't really mesh - the first half is focused on Medwin's character yet he's largely an afterthought in the second half. The film's genial, light-hearted atmosphere in the Irish segment awkwardly contrasts with the increasingly dour segment in the English newspaper office where the topic of the future of humanity even comes up.
As well, the film probably lacks the panache to be a really successful light comedy. For example, the film has the original idea of the voice of the Oracle complains about the opening and ending credits but it isn't as funny as it should be.
Still, it's not a bad film and worth seeking out for seeing the likes of Medwin and Virginia McKenna at the start of their careers.
Carl Reiner's debut feature 'Enter Laughing' deserves to be better known than it is. Very sweet, likable and often funny, it almost makes you wish a TV series had resulted from this where you could follow the further adventures of David Kolowitz as he continues his acting pursuits.
There are many fine performances from a standout cast but the highlight is Elaine May who is funny, sexy and charming as David's acting counterpart. Michael J. Pollard is also impressive in his too brief role.
The film has some minor flaws. It struggles to escape its stage origins and at times feels like a recording of a play instead of fully cinematic piece. It doesn't have a great 1930s feel to it, partly because of budget constraints and partly because several of the actors (especially Nancy Kovack) have 1960s hairstyles.
But overall, 'Enter Laughing' is a charming film, well worth seeking out.
'Alive & Kicking' is a surprisingly engaging and likable film that largely escapes the pitfalls within the film's narrative
The plot line - three elderly ladies escape from an old people's home - to an isolated Irish village - could potentially lead to silliness and patronising treatment of the central trio. And it threatens to be that in the early scenes of their escape which are mildly enjoyable but slightly inane.
But once the film settles in Ireland, it becomes a surprisingly deft and endearing film. Not only does it create good characterisations of the three elderly ladies, but characters like MacDonagh are charmingly handled and acted (by Stanley Holloway.
The film is so pleasant that even when MacDonagh's lawyer appears to end the trio's adventure, he is shown to be someone just doing his job and not painted as the villain as one expects.
'Alive and Kicking' is no classic but it's agreeable entertainment that gives Sybil Thorndike, Kathleen Harrison and Estelle Winwood all moments to shine, plus a very early appearance by Richard Harris.
Considering the array of dramatic and comedic talent in the cast of 'The Baby and The Battleship' - Richard Attenborough, John Mills, Lionel Jeffries, Michael Horden, John Le Mesurier, Kenneth Griffith, Gordon Jackson and more - you would think it would be impossible for the film not to have some entertainment value. But this film pretty much achieves it.
Displaying all the worst aspects of mid-1950s British cinema, the film snoozes through by falling back on dreary Italian stereotypes and the most uninteresting bunch of sailors you're ever likely to come across.
Most baffling of all, after all the effort a group of sailors put into hiding the baby from the authorities when it is discovered it doesn't really seem an issue at all!
The best that can be said about the film is that the child in the central role gives a good performance.
Recently I caught Blake Edwards' debut film 'Bring Your Smile Along' and enjoyed it. It was smoothly directed, star Frankie Laine sang several nice songs and the banter between the male and female leads was relatively sophisticated, something that would become a hallmark of many of Edwards' later films.
Initially, this recreation of the gangster era in America in the 1920s starts off on the same engaging level. But from the midway point when mob boss Big Dan Hennessy dies, the film loses its way.
There are several different plot strands in the film's second half (the stuttering romance between Jimmy & Rosie, Rosie by inheritance becoming the big mob boss, Max Lassiter's attempts to take over) but none of them go in interesting directions so that even at the film's short running time, it's a bit of a slog to get through to the end.
Also, 'He Laughed Last' is a much weaker vehicle for Laine than 'Bring Your Smile Long'. He sings far less here and his character is basically a non-entity, basically waiting at the sidelines while all the other characters do their thing.
There are some pleasing aspects to this film, but 'Bring Your Smile Along' is a superior exhibition of the Edwards/Laine combo.
As good a tribute to Sidney Lumet as any of his films
'Garbo Talks' would be considered by virtually no one as one of director Sidney Lumet's greatest films. One could easily think of a dozen more acclaimed and memorable. But in its own way its a great tribute to his skills as a director.
The film is a fairly slight affair about a worn-down office man who tries to realise her eccentric mother's (Anne Bancroft) dying wish of meeting Greta Garbo. The script is decent enough but nothing special and when it tries to be funny, it's only mildly successful. Lumet was never known for his comedy skills and the reason why is on display with his flat handling of the humour scenes.
But what could've been a pleasant but totally forgettable movie is made memorable and moving by Lumet's deft handling of the emotional and more serious scenes.
For big scenes like when the mother finally meets Garbo, Lumet plays it out in one long take without relying on emotional music and has the confidence in the event itself to make an impact, which it does. We see the mother talk to Garbo about her life experiences - both good and bad - and we see how much it means that this has occurred.
Thanks to Lumet's tasteful handling, a scene that could've gone wrong works beautifully. As does the choice not to show her moment of death, instead having the son pack up in the hospital room signifying her passing.
The film also works as a character study of the son; early on he is portrayed as a harried office worker in a dissatisfying relationship and has little time for his unconventional mother. But over the course of the film we see him grow as a person and genuinely appreciate his mother as she reaches her departure.
Also memorable is right at the end of the film when the son (Ron Silver) resigns from his office job. Instead of complaining towards his oppressive boss, he is genuinely thankful and doesn't blame him at all which the boss is appreciative of. Again Lumet's non-obtrusive handling helps make the scene work.
This is far from Lumet's best work, but it is a good demonstration of why he was such a great director.
I found this musical decent enough with some good tunes (especially during Charley's stage performances) but failing to make much of an impression.
At first I thought it was because the story had clichéd elements in it that have been seen a million times before, especially when Charley finds that - gasp! - fame and fortune isn't all it's cracked up to be.
But that wasn't the main reason as there have been plenty of great movie musicals full of clichés and obvious story lines.
I think what holds this film back is that it lacks what the best Hollywood musicals of this era had, especially the MGM ones. Namely, a confident sense of style and pizazz and a desire to be noticed.
The style of 'Charley Moon' is all too modest. Take for example the early segment where Charley Moon's father dies. In a top line Hollywood musical of the day, the melodrama from this would be milked for all its worth. Here, it barely registers any impact.
Despite this, it's an OK film. It has some good tunes and is given a level of quality by it's impressive supporting cast (especially Dennis Price). In the lead Max Bygraves is a bit awkward early on but is personable enough and does a solid job overall.