Based on a story by Patrick Ford, the son of the legendary John, 'North West Frontier' clearly owes a debt to Ford seniors classic 'Stagecoach' as a mixed group of travellers set out on a perilous journey. In its own way, 'North West Frontier' matches that Hollywood classic in quality. After a stunning opening twenty minutes where barely a line of dialogue is spoken, the movie lives up to the old cliché of "offering a roller-coaster ride of excitement", something which is much promised but seldom delivered.
Kenneth More is one of my favourite actors and he is wonderful in this. Perhaps his character lacks the neurotic edge that the late Sir John Mills brought to the directors earlier movie 'Ice Cold In Alex' (a movie which shares plot elements with this one), but instead More brings an air of honest decency to the part. The evocatively named "Captain Scott" is no super-hero, but simply an honest man trying to do a difficult job.
Lauren Bacall also gives a fine performance, in a role which could easily have been the film's weakest link as a token Hollywood 'big name' for the American market. While the likes of Lom and Hyde White fill their roles with practised ease as I. S Gupta steals every scene he is in.
At over two hours it is a long movie, yet the 129 minutes seem to fly by and I was genuinely sad to bid farewell to the passengers and crew of the 'Empress of India', while the 'Eaton Boating Song' played in my head for day afterwards.
Confession time, I first saw 'The Horse's Mouth' around ten or twelve years ago, one afternoon on British television and hated it. Alec's "Gulley Jimson" seemed to me to be very un-likable and I found myself unable to get the point of the film. However, re-watching this on DVD, I found it to be far, far better than I remembered and something of a revelation.
I found myself identifying with "Gulley" this time around and appreciating Alec's subtle performance (to the extent that I was genuinely sad to see the film end). Guinness is backed by two astonishingly fine performances by Walsh and Houston (it's Rene's finest performance, for someone with a tendency to play 'broad' here she is remarkably subtle).
All in all, a wonderful if sadly under-rated film and one equal to Alec's best Ealing work.
First things first, Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps' is and always will be a classic of the British cinema and Ralph Thomas's remake (it's unashamedly a remake, rather than an adaptation of the novel) fails to equal it. However, once you get past that fact, on its own terms this is rather an enjoyable little movie.
Kenneth More is one of my favourite performers, perhaps not the greatest actor in the world, but one who has a charismatic personality. If he doesn't quite equal Robert Donat's original 'Richard Hannay', he comes close and invests the role with genuine warmth. Taina Elg's foreign heroine however, though very attractive is no Madeleine Carroll and is perhaps the movie's weakest link.
The stars are backed up by a splendid cast of familiar British character actors, ranging from Sid James's cameo as a truck driver, to Brenda De Banzie's turn as a friendly, man-hungry roadside café owner.
Another plus is the glorious Scottish locations (genuine this time, as opposed to the original's studio mock-ups), filmed in luscious 'Eastmancolor'.
All in all, while Ralph Thomas is no Alfred Hitchcock (but then, there's only one Hitch), the remake is ideal entertainment, perfect viewing for a dark winter's night, curled up in your armchair with hot coffee and toast by your side.
Gene Kelly's last MGM musical is oddly obscure, seldom mentioned in the same breath as his earlier classics such as 'Singin' In The Rain' or 'On The Town'. Let it is a very enjoyable movie which sticks in the mind long after you have watched it.
Kelly heads a very strong cast, full of familiar faces such as Patrick McNee (of 'The Avengers' fame) and that old smoothie Leslie Phillips, who you seldom associate with the Hollywood musical. The stand out of course is the marvelous Kay Kendall, who steals the picture (Kelly himself is a bit subdued in this picture).
Even though the Cole Porter songs here are a bit under-par, the script is strong and the movie is expertly directed by George Cukor and the movie itself deserves to be better known.
Over-shadowed by such classics as THE GOLD RUSH or CITY-LIGHTS, THE PILGRIM is a delight and is perhaps Charlie's finest 'short'. Dropping his 'Little Tramp' character, Chaplin is now an escaped convict, heading out West disguised as a clergyman and who is mistaken for the new Pastor of a small Western town.
Sentiment is kept at a minimum and THE PILGRIM is filled with inventive sight gags and sequences, with perhaps the stand-out being the middle-section, where Charlie suffers from the attentions of a little boy (the bowler hat covered with custard and served as afternoon tea is a wonderfully surreal touch)..
The 1959 re-issued version is perhaps the version to see, as it comes with a wonderful score by Chaplin and a specially written theme song, 'Bound For Texas' sung by Britain's own Matt Monroe. It's a memorably jaunty song which you will be humming for days afterwards.
Some people still consider this movie a flop. Having just re-watched this movie for the first time in years, I can't see why. Perhaps Walston is a bit weak in a leading role (Sellers would have been fantastic), but the script is first rate, both funny and touching.
Dean Martin and Kim Novak are seriously under-rated actors in my opinion; here Dean sends himself up as 'Dino' and is not afraid to play himself as un-likable. Novak is, as always, wonderful. Sadly Kim never seems to get the appreciation she deserves, her performances in such movies as 'Vertigo' and 'Bell, Book & Candle' are never less than first class. While the lesser-known Felicia Farr comes across very well (she was also the wife of Wilder's frequent star, Jack Lemmon, I wonder how this film would have worked with Lemmon in the Walston role?)
This is a gem of a movie and one of Wilder's best.
Originally filmed under the more atmospheric title 'The House At The End Of The World', sadly both the American ('Die, Monster, Die!') and British ('Monster Of Terror') titles reflect the quality of the movie.
An adaptation of H P Lovecraft's 'The Colour Out Of Space' it feels more like a Poe adaptation, with its old dark mansion, subterranean corridors and air of family secrets. Unsurprisingly first-time director Haller was Corman's production designer/art director on the Poe series and the end result is a good-looking movie ruined by a poor script.
Karloff is wasted as is the cast, which is a shame as it is a fine one. Freda Jackson, Suzan Farmer and Patrick Magee are genre veterans who have given (or would go on to give) fine horror performances in other movies, here they are just thrown away in small cameo roles or, in Farmer's case, a stiff, disconnected leading role.
Haller would go on to make the far better Lovecraft adaptation, 'The Dunwich Horror', which, while flawed, is well worth checking out.
'Up The Creek' proved such a success that this sequel was rushed into production and in fact debuted in the same year. Val Guest remained aboard for this second voyage as did most of the supporting cast (Jeffries, Lodge etc); the only one who refused to sign on was Peter Sellers, who was busy working on 'The Mouse That Roared'. Stepping into his shoes was Frankie Howerd, who proved to be as an effective foil to top-billed David Tomlinson as Sellers was.
In many ways this sequel improves upon the original, having a faster pace and more comic incidents. Tomlinson fares better in this movie, an early scene raises the ghost of Guest's work with comic legend Will Hay, as Tomlinson's bumbling Lieutenant-Commander crosses swords with a knowledgeable Sea Cadet.
An expanded cast including Thora Hird and the very shapely Shirley Eaton (a fixture of British comedies in this period) helps to open out this movie and the sea voyage plot line takes this into different waters from the previous movie.
'Further Up The Creek' faced troubled waters when it was released, failing to match the box office performance of the first movie (partly, in Frankie's Howerd's view, because it was released too close to the original) and plans for any further on-screen voyages were scuppered. Which is a shame as it's an enjoyable little movie, well worth watching if you are in the mood for some innocent fun.
The biggest problem with 'The Mummy's Shroud' is that with 'The Mummy' in 1959, Hammer made the definitive 'mummy movie' and so 'The Mummy's Shroud' which basically tells the same story with only minor differences, comes across as being redundant.
John Gilling does his best with the material (there are a lot of great shots in this movie) but is unable to over-come the basic familiarity of the story. The cast is mixed, with the best actor, Andre Morell, wasted in a minor role. There are compensations, however, as Hammer veteran Michael Ripper (dubbed by Christopher Lee as 'face of Hammer') is given is best role as Longbarrow, his death is perhaps the dramatic highlight of the movie.
In addition, 'The Mummy's Shroud' is superior to Hammer's last movie in the series, 'The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb', having a faster pace and sticks better in the memory (mainly due to the talents of Gilling). While not vintage Hammer by a long chalk, it's a solid Hammer movie which suffers from the 'seen it all before' factor.
Oh, by the way, if you're a Peter Cushing fan you will be disappointed, as despite being credited to Cushing in some sources, the narrator does not sound remotely like him.
Based around the old chestnut of having crooks rob a bank, bury the loot but later find that that the area has been built upon, this is a fun mid-sixties comedy. Not quite a 'Carry On' (it's not as funny, for a start), it does share much of that series style (as well as sharing the production team, writer and three of its stars).
Sid James is, well, Sid James in this. A bit muted perhaps, but it's always nice to see him. He is backed expertly by the likes of Dick Emery and Lance Percival, a fine pair of comedians who seldom were seen on the big screen. The big revelation (for me at least) is Sylvia Syms splendid comic performance. Syms is best known for her serious dramatic roles in the likes of 'Victim' or 'Ice Cold In Alex' and it is a pleasant surprise to see her in a comedy.
'The Big Job' has its problems, the plot as mentioned above, was hardly original and plans for this movie began in the late fifties. Quite a few writers had a bash at the script (including Spike Milligan) and the final script, by Talbot Rothwell, while fair, was far from the comic masterpieces he was coming up with for the 'Carry On' series proper.
If 'The Big Job' isn't a comedy classic, it is an entertaining little movie, well worth catching on one of its many television re-runs.
Long unavailable on video and seldom if ever shown on television, 'Horrors Of The Black Museum' has long been a movie I wanted to see. The recent United Kingdom DVD release provided myself with my first opportunity, sadly it turned out to be an anti-climax, as this movie turned out to be the weakest of Anglo-Amalgamated's 'Sadian' trilogy.
Lacking the cinematic poetry of 'Peeping Tom' and the pulp verve of 'Circus Of Horrors', this is a very flat movie, with even the murders themselves failing to make any impact. This is down to a combination of very bad acting, which ranges from Michael Gough hamming it up to the very wooden acting of Cunningham and Field (only Geoffrey Keene gives anything resembling a good performance, yet even he seems bored with the material) and a very laughable script. The actors struggle with poor dialogue, while the narrative doesn't seem to know whether it's a mystery or not (it's obvious who the murder is right from his first appearance yet we are expected to be shocked when he's identity is revealed).
The only positive point about this movie is its splendid Eastmancolor look, but aside from that it is both flat and dull. One for die-hard fans only.
While Hodges and Caine's 'Get Carter' has long since become a classic movie, it's follow up, 'Pulp' has been largely forgotten about. This is a shame, as, on it's on its own terms, and 'Pulp' is as rich a film. Like the previous movie, 'Pulp' is influenced by such noir writers as Chandler, Hammett and MacDonald (all three are referenced during the film), however, the big difference lies is the amount of comedy used. The first half is full of comic moments and (even though it does turn darker) comedy is ever-present.
Most obviously, it's in the way the movie parodies such clichés as voice overs (people who complain of it's over use are, I think, missing the point, as the tension between King's voice over and the actual events help give the movie it's kick).
Michael Caine's 'Micky King', is light-years away from his role as the vengeful 'Jack Carter', slightly pathetic, constantly trying to keep up with the plot, is an enjoyable performance, as is Mickey Rooney's over the hill movie star.
The 'Loaded' generation who took 'Carter' into their hearts are never, ever going to understand this movie, but in its own quirky way, it's up there with such key 'seventies movies as 'The Long Goodbye' or 'Chinatown'.
Relocated to Seattle, reporter Kolchak stumbles on yet another series of murders, a series which seems to be repeated every twenty-one years. Of the two movies, `The Night Strangler' has the slight edge. This is possibly down to its location, Seattle. Very unfamiliar to me, it adds certain freshness to the story, while the underground old' Seattle is a fantastic location, macabre and memorable; it sticks in my mind long after watching the movie. The candle lit, cob-webbed corpses are perhaps one of the most vivid images in American genre television.
Also of note is Richard Anderson's villain, a crazed, immortality seeking Doctor, he is far more impressive than the original's vampire. A more assured script (which is genuinely funny in places), plus some enjoyable cameo's (Carradine, Hamilton), help make this a rare sequel which is better than the original.
Sadly, plans for a third movie were abandoned and instead a short-lived, inferior television series (without Matheson's involvement) resulted. A patchy effort, despite McGavin's best efforts it never attained the quality of the two movies.
Long a staple of late night television schedules, `The Night Stalker', is a memorable slice of seventies horror. Darren McGavin is fantastic as Carl Kolchak, an eccentric, down at heel reporter covering a series of murders which are not what they seem. He is backed by a fine cast of familiar faces who help reinforce genre veteran Matheson's quality script and the atmospheric direction of John Llewellyn Moxley, which hides the made for television origins of this movie.
If this has a weak spot, it lies in the bad guy', who is basically all teeth and snarls. Lacking character (and plainly odd) it's surprising that he wasn't spotted long before he arrived in Las Vegas (incidentally, the location adds a certain charm to the story).
Not a straight remake of the classic Poe tale, more an odd mixture of `The Phantom Of The Opera' (Herbert Lom is effectively reprising his Hammer Phantom), `Theatre of Death' and Poe's familiar themes of premature burial, `Murders In The Rue Morgue' is an experiment which does not quite work.
Partly this is down to Chris Wicking's script, not best known for his narrative clarity, here he reaches it a new low, with a script obscure in the extreme (at several points it seems to contradict itself). He is not helped by Hessler's direction, the strengths showed in the earlier `Scream And Scream Again' seem to have disappeared, and replaced by sheer shoddiness (some of the murders are very badly staged). A more imaginative director was needed to compensate for the script, especially in the case of the repetitive dream sequences which pepper the film.
By this time Vincent Price had jumped ship and was replaced by Jason Robards Jnr. An odd choice, as aside from being too contemporary for this period setting, he is also, dare I say it, too good an actor for this material. It really needed an actor, who like Price, had a strong sense of irony. As a result Robards just looks flat. Lom comes across much better, but again ham-fisted direction by Hessler sometimes makes him look absurd (the worst offender is when Lom follows Robards; it's staged so badly that a blind man would have noticed Lom).
It's a mess, but despite its many faults it is entertaining enough, the frustrating thing about it is that you get the feeling that given a better script and a more imaginative director (and Vincent Price instead of Robards) this movie could have been very good indeed.
This is one of those movies that you watch more for the cast than it's plot (or even for its quality). The likes of William Hartnell (who gives a great comic performance), Sid James (who only seems to have two or three scenes) and, in one of his very rare film roles, Tommy Cooper, all seem to promise a much better film than the one that we get.
The problem lies in a fairly average script, which fails to ever really get going or to even get its plot to hang together. For example the climax is the surprise visit of the Arch-Deacon, a character who seems to arrive out of the blue and who was never mentioned previously in the film. Also everyone seems to have forgotten that Brian Rix is meant to be this film's star. Far more time is given to the likes of Hartnell and Vera Day and much more impact is made by James and Cooper, that Rix is pretty much sidelined.
Not a hidden gem or a particularly funny movie, it's worth checking out if you're a fan of British comedy (or just want to watch television's first 'Doctor Who' giving a brilliantly funny performance).
By 1974 Hammer Studios was winding down. In a desperate attempt to find a new audience, the studio that dripped blood teamed up with the Hong Kong based Shaw brothers, the masterminds' behind a successful run of kung fu movies.
This unlikely alliance led to an uneven movie. At times unintentionally amusing, this is little more than a series of (sometimes very good) fight scenes. Peter Cushing is provides the acting, while Julie Ege provides the Hammer glamour.
Sadly this is probably best remembered for the late addition of a couple of scenes topping and tailing the movie. Apparently the backers wanted Dracula in the picture and so after the film proper was completed two scenes featuring the Count were tacked on. Christopher Lee sensibly turned it down flat and it was left to a singularly unimpressive John Forbes-Robertson (dubbed to boot) to play the character. Flat in the extreme, the Count's addition causes a major internal continuity error that makes nonsense of the plot (If Dracula had spent the last century in China, how on earth could Peter Cushing's Van Helsing have encountered the Count before, said encounters being mentioned during the film).
Despite the many flaws, it is still a surprisingly entertaining movie, if not a good one, though Hammer's Dracula' series deserved a better end.
The second in director Cohen's trilogy of Second World War comedies (the others being Till Death Do Us Part' and `Adolf Hitler - My Part In His Downfall') is a film version of the BBC's long running (and much loved) situation comedy. Like most transfers of television shows, this movie suffers from an absence of plot and is more a collection of sketches. Some of which work better than others for example the scene where a high ranking army officer floats down a river is a memorable, surreal moment.
The joy of this movie is it's representation of a past that probably never existed and an England which is defined by picturesque countryside and the chance it offers to see veteran scene-stealers such as John Le Mesurier given their biggest film roles. Arthur Lowe is superb as Captain Mainwaring, a bungler, who, when the chips are down, displays great courage and saves the day (the climax is probably the character's greatest moment).
Episodes of the television series are of course funnier but as an introduction to a British legend, you cannot find anything better.
One of a hoard of service comedies that hit the British cinema screens in the late '50's, early '60's, 'Up The Creek' is far from being the best or most memorable. Basically it is a cross between radio's 'The Navy Lark' and the later 'Watch Your Stern' , with a bit of 'Bilko' mixed in, as 'silly ass' David Tomlinson, a rocket mad navy officer, is given command of a navy vessel and forced to contend with the schemes of his Chief Petty Officer (Peter Sellers).
Sellers is perhaps the main reason for watching this movie and its fun to see him in this, his very first starring role. But, to be honest, it's probably his least memorable performance of this period, never reaching the heights of his work in 'The Naked Truth' or 'The Battle Of The Sexes' (to name just two).
A good supporting cast helps deliver the laughs, while the under-rated Val Guest directs efficiently. The movie is fun while it is on, but ultimately it is a bit anonymous (it could be any one of a number of similar movies) and fails to live on in the memory.
Fans of Kingsley Amis's brilliant novel might with justification hate this adaptation, but taken on its own terms, it is an enjoyable slice of 'fifties British comedy. While the novel's bite may have been lost, the movie's troubled production history (a few weeks into the filming, the original director, Ealing's Charles Crichton, was replaced) fails to show on the finished film.
Ian Charmichael is at his best in this movie. The combination of a (realistic) Northern accent, plus a slightly harder edged characterisation, helps distance him from his usual 'silly ass' image. Perhaps he isn't the Dixon of the book, but it is a fair attempt. A first rate cast adds to the fun, in particular a small but perfectly formed cameo by Terry-Thomas steals the movie.
The final chase is, as been noted, the movie's weakest link (it seems to come out of nowhere and does not fit in with the rest of the film) and is it fair from being the best Amiss adaptation (that honour belongs to the wonderful 'Only Two Can Play'). But despite these flaws, it remains a watch able enough movie.
This type of movie played a major part of my childhood/early 'teens. During the school holidays (or when ever I was off ill during term time), there was always an old black and white movie playing on Monday and Friday afternoons.
Sometimes a thriller or a war movie, most of the time a comedy, all of them 'forgotten' movies such as this one.
Re-watching 'Nurse On Wheels' after almost twenty years a few things become obvious. The most important being that, despite what some marketing people have tried to do recently, this isn't a 'Carry On' movie under a different name. The humour is more gentle and sentimental (though the movie ends with a variation on 'Carry On Nurse's famous 'daffodil gag') and comes across as a slightly more serious 'Doctor' movie. In fact parts of it verge on comedy-drama, for example Raymond Huntley's Vicar is no comedy eccentric, but a man going through a crisis of faith (or simply compare Jim Dale's comic turn as an expectant father in 'Carry On Cabby', with his more serious role in this).
Once again Juliet Mills lights up the screen, proving to have genuine screen presence and she is backed by a typically strong cast of familiar British faces. Not a movie to watch for belly laughs, but a pleasant, charming movie that they really do not make any more.
At one point this was planned as a `Dracula-free' Dracula movie (along the lines of `Brides Of Dracula' or `Kiss Of The Vampire'), fortunately the American backers had more sense and demanded the inclusion of Mr Lee. I say fortunately, as I think that `Taste The Blood Of Dracula' is Lee's second-best outing in the role (just behind the classic 1958 `Dracula').
Peter Sasdy is a highly imaginative, but sadly unappreciated director and he makes the most of a strong script. The cast is impressive, a strong mixture of established character actors (Keene, Carson, Sallis etc) and fresh faces (Hayden, Blair, and Bates) and there is no weak links. Hayden (an iconic figure in the early seventies) and Blair in particular give memorable performances.
From the edgy, blackly comic pre-credit sequence on-wards, this movie rarely misses a step. The only exception being the climax, which seems to me to be more than slightly confusing and unclear. This however is just a minor grip, as this movie is in my opinion the last great Dracula movie (and head and shoulders above the previous film in this cycle, the very dull `Dracula has risen From The Grave') and a highpoint of late Hammer Horror.
The great Billy Wilder started the final phase of his film career, with two reflective mellow masterpieces, `The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes' (1970) and this, `Avanti', which failed to find an audience. Time however has been kinder and both now are considered as being amongst his best work.
The plot is simple, harassed business man Jack Lemmon is summoned to Italy due to the death of his father in a car accident. To his horror his discovers not only was his father not alone in the car, but his follow victim was his Mistress of ten years standing. While arranging for his father's corpse to be returned to America for a funeral, he meets and gradually falls in love with the English daughter of his father's Mistress.
With any romantic comedy, the plot doesn't really matter, what matters is Wilder's wonderful script and direction and the marvellous cast. Regular Wilder-collaborator Lemmon gives his customary good performance, at first slightly unlikeable but gradually mellowing as he falls in love. Juliet Mills is a revelation a radiant presence that lights up the screen. It's sad to think that her career never really went anywhere as in most of her movies she very easily captures the viewers hearts.
Clive Revill, another un-sung actor (and a veteran of `The Private Live of Sherlock Holmes') almost steals the movie as a helpful hotel manager, and gets most of the best lines.
By no means a laugh-out loud movie, its charms are more subtle, depending on atmosphere, attractive locations and people you care about. Perhaps the best proof of its quality is that it runs for around 2 hours and twenty minutes yet seems to fly by.
One of the studio's rare non-anthology movies, it suffers from a very uncertain script. The opening narration suggests a gothic melodrama along the lines of `Rebecca', but it all-too quickly goes over the top. Familiar genre faces such as Patrick Magee pop up only to fall foul for a disembodied hand (a left over from the studio's `Dr Terror's House Of Horrors') and the whole thing becomes slightly comic.
Fortunately Peter Cushing's late arrival (more than halfway through) adds much needed class to the picture, even though his participation in the events is a bit limited. At least he avoids the fate of Herbert Lom, who despite his second billing only has a couple of scenes. Those scenes are very derivative of Doyle's `Hound Of The Baskervilles' and sadly fail to carry much conviction. The fault perhaps lies in the lack of distance between the present' of the movie and the past', as there is a lack of contrast (the flashback could have happened yesterday, there is no obvious juxtaposition of periods that you find in the `Hound').
Though I have largely dwelt on the negative, this movie isn't all bad. Roy Ward Baker is a very under-rated director and does a fine job with the weak script he was given. The cast is good, filled with genre veterans such as Cushing, Lom, Magee and the reliable Ian Oglivy.
By no means an unsung classic' or even an especially good movie, `And Now The Screaming Starts' is a watch able genre outing and, if your in the right mood, entertaining enough (if you can disregard the plot holes).
This is very much a star vehicle for Harry H. Corbett, fresh from the success of 'Steptoe And Son'. Indeed, the 'Steptoe' associations do not end there, as the presence of Ray Galton, Alan Simpson and Duncan Wood suggest.
Like 'Steptoe', this movie is based around a traditional but dying industry (by the end of the film it has only 18 months), that of commercial narrow boat trading. The difference is that in 'Steptoe' the totting is very much a grim existence, but here it is a pretty much idyllic life and you can readily understand Hemel Pike's reluctance to give it up. The Technicolor helps provide a dream-like tone.
Galton and Simpson's script is strong, mixing comedy and drama as Corbett's 'Casanova of the canals' succumbs to the charms of the winsome daughter of the fiery Hugh Griffith. There is an equally strong cast to match, notably Eric Sykes as an incompetent amateur mariner and Miriam Karlin as a vengeful woman who discovers that she is not the only woman in Corbett's life. In my eyes Ronnie Barker steals every scene he is in.
This is possibly Corbett's best screen outing as star and is far better than its general reputation suggests. I first saw it around ten years ago and it failed to make an impression, re-watching it today, I fell in love with it.