brogmiller

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Reviews

Zemlya
(1930)

"There is no God".
When Dovzhenko's 'Zvenigora' was shown in 1928 Pudovkin is alleged to have remarked to Eisenstein: "Now there are three of us." The trials and tribulations of this talented trio under the Stalinist regime have been well documented and Dovzhenko's diaries express his frustration at unrealised projects. His total of seven films in twenty years says it all. There may not be quantity but the quality is immeasurable.

Set in the director's beloved Ukraine and depicting the struggle between the collectives and the landowners, 'Earth' appeals directly to the emotions and underlines Dovzhenko's belief that it is necessary to love and hate deeply.

When Vasili arrives with a tractor, known symbolically as 'the Iron Horse', his fellow farmers rejoice at a new beginning. This represents an obvious threat to the Kulaks and they resort to murder which merely strengthens the farmers in their resolve.........

Cinematographer Daniil Demutsky, who had previously shot 'Arsenal' for this director and would spend time in a labour camp following the 'Great Purge', has captured incredible images of swaying wheatfields, ripening fruits and stampeding horses whilst his camera seems to almost penetrate the souls of the actors, notably Stepan Shkurat and Semyon Svashenko as father and son. As Vasili's sister we have the director's wife Yulya Solntseva who went on to make films based upon her late husband's infinished scripts.

The central section of the film is one of intense lyricism and the final sequence which is, I am told, a perfect example of 'parallel montage', is mesmerising.

Dovzhenko was obliged to show his film thirty-two times to various organisations before it was shown to the public. Certain scenes had to be cut but happily have been restored. A magnificent score was added by Alexander Popov in 1997.

Although an intellecual Dovzhenko's film are never intellectualised. This is a glorious paean to Nature with its cycle of life, death, rebirth and regeneration. It is this aspect that enables it to transcend its time and appeal to generations of film goers.

Trouble in Paradise
(1932)

"Prosperity is just around the corner."
Ernst Lubitsch, once described by Jean Renoir as 'the inventor of modern Hollywood', made a seamless transition from silent films to sound and his first talking comedy is a masterpiece of wit, sophistication, sexual intrigue and moral ambiguity.

Samson Raphaelson's brilliant screenplay is inspired by the escapades of the Roumanian 'Prince of Thieves', George Manolesco, whilst the 'European' look is courtesy of one of the greatest Art Designers of all time, Hans Dreier.

The cast is pure gold. George had been played before by Ivan Mosjoukine but here the name is changed to Gaston and the immaculate Herbert Marshall takes on the role of the jewel thief who makes the mistake of falling for his intended victim, the deliciously decadent Mariette of Kay Francis, on loan from Warner Bros. His accomplice is the delightfully duplicitous Lily of Miriam Hopkins, in the second of her three films for Lubitsch. The character of Gaston, seen from behind, nimbly taking the stairs, was of course a 'double' as Marshall had a prosthetic leg thanks to a sniper's bullet in WW1. Despite this hindrance, Marshall combined a long and successful career with an active love life, which is testament to his talent, charm and fortitude!

Marvellous support from Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton as Mariette's hapless suitors and C. Aubrey Smith whose character is not quite as upstanding as he appears to be.

Just two of the many marvellous moments are the lovers' silhouettes on the bedspread and Kay Francis utilising her own slight speech defect by pronouncing 'crimson' as 'cwimson'.

Lubitsch himself considered that in terms of style he had done nothing better or as good as 'Trouble in Paradise'. Who are we to disagree?

The Thief
(1952)

Silence is golden.
Actions certainly speak louder than words in this Cold War espionage drama produced by 'B' studio Eagle-Lion, directed by Russell Rouse and starring Ray Milland. Should you be counting the minutes until somebody actually speaks you will be disappointed.

Physicist Allan Fields, who works for the Atomic Energy Commission, is handing over top secret documents to enemy agents. We never discover his motives or what sort of hold they have over him but it does not take us long to realise that his heart is not in it. Through a freak accident involving one of the agents the ring is discovered by the FBI and Fields, now under constant surveillance, is obliged to flee the country. The tension becomes almost unbearable and the sequence on the Empire State Building is spellbinding.

The film is so technically proficient and its leading man so outstanding that after a while the absence of dialogue ceases to matter. Film, after all, is a visual medium. Rouse's taut direction, Sam Leavitt's cinematography, Chester Schaeffer's editing, Herschel Burke Gilbert's score and Ray Milland's performance combine to make this an intriguing and mesmerising experience. Milland is called upon to register so many emotions here and his expression when setting eyes on Rita Gam across the hallway is priceless. Who needs words? For this viewer at any rate the word that immediately springs to mind is: 'Phwoar!'

All My Sons
(1948)

The only crime is being caught!
Playwright Arthur Miller had a great deal at stake when his play 'All my Sons' opened on Broadway in 1947. He later admitted that had the play failed he would have been obliged to find another line of work. Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring a top notch cast it ran for almost two years. The rest, as they say, is history.

It did not take long of course for Hollywood to pounce and to make a version that Miller himself came to despise. This play is not the last in which Miller would show the darker side of the American Dream. Adaptor Chester Erskine has however, carefully removed any of Miller's leftist sentiments and the crime committed by Joe Keller in selling defective cylinders to the US Airforce, which results in the death of 21 pilots, is blamed on Keller's own greed rather than the Capitalist system that created him and so many like him.

To my knowledge there is nothing in the previous films of Irving Reis that would suggest his being capable of doing justice to this material and his direction lacks fluidity. He is aided by the 'noirish' touches of cinematographer Russell Metty and an understated score by Leith Stevens. In keeping with the inevitable compromise of film, some characters, notably Dr. and Mrs. Bayliss, have been diminished. Keller's business partner Deever who has taken the rap for the crime and is only spoken of in the play, is here given a speaking role which is filmically very effective. Deever's daughter Ann is played by Louisa Horton who is not a typical Hollywood glamour puss by any means but whose directness and sincerity make her excellent casting. This was to be her first and only film role of note. Burt Lancaster plays Keller's son Chris. Although keen to improve as an actor, Lancaster's charisma works against him here and he does not really convince as an average Joe. As Deever's son, Howard Gruff is as Duff as ever and strictly one dimensional. The strength of the film lies in the performances of Edward G. Robinson and Mady Christians as Joe and Kate. Robinson is superlative as a man whose outward bonhomie and confidence conceal a terrible sense of guilt. His assertions that he did it 'for the family' have a hollow ring. Kate is living in a fantasy world, clinging to the belief that their son Larry, reported lost in action, will return. The devastating scene in which she reads the letter confirming his death is beautifully played.

Ironically Miller, Robinson and Christians were all summoned by the HUAC for alleged Communist leanings. Miller emerged unscathed, Robinson's 'A' listing suffered throughout the 1950's until Cecil B. de Mille came to his rescue but Christians was not so fortunate. Her outspokenness not only shattered her career but ended her life.

This piece is decidedly not filmed theatre. It is cinema but alas, not great cinema.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
(1934)

Don't lose your head!
Baroness Orczy was what one would now term 'a right-wing reactionary'. It is probably best to draw a discreet veil over her involvement with 'The Women of England's Active Service League'. When reading her 'Scarlet Pimpernel' it is glaringly obvious that she does not exactly sympathise with the Republicans! That aside, she has created a character that is of timeless and universal appeal, with his dual existence, his disguises and his distinctive calling card.

Physically Leslie Howard is a far cry from the 'tall, broad-shouldered, massively built' Sir Percy Blakeney of Orczy's imagining but his superlative portrayal sets the template by which all actors in the role must be judged. His performance is one of immense grace and subtlety.

In this screenplay, unlike the novel, the Lady Blakeney of Merle Oberon is introduced to us whilst posing for renowned portrait painter George Romney. Whatever Miss Oberon's limitations as an actress she is loved by the camera and oozes class. As Blakeney's most dangerous enemy Citizen Chauvelin, the marvellous Raymond Massey is villainy incarnate. This actor's notoriously wicked sense of humour is evident here.

Granted, the film is somewhat creaky at times as are the performances from some of the supporting actors but it is streets ahead of Powell and Pressburger's catastrophic version of 1950. The less said about Clive Donner's execrable version of 1982 the better.

Baroness Orczy was an avowed Anglophile and happily married to an Englishman so the final scene of this film would I'm sure have appealed to her immensely.

Towards the end of the film Blakeney recites a few lines of 'the sceptered isle' speech from Shakespeare's 'Richard II'. There are two lines in that speech that are not quoted. Although they were not relevant in 1792 or indeed in 1934 they are chillingly relevant now: "That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself."

Conquest
(1937)

"Power has conquered you."
It is generally agreed that Greta Garbo reached per peak as an actress in 'Camille' in which she simply transcends the art of film acting. An opinion that is shared by this viewer who happens to be an avowed Garbomaniac. The script was superlative and Garbo herself in a positive frame of mind(by her standards anyway!)

Her next film, her twenty-second in eleven years, could not, alas, afford a greater contrast.

When the idea of a film depicting the relationship between Napoleon Buonaparte and Countess Marie Walewska was first suggested to Irving Thalberg he expressed doubts as to whether Napoleon would be of any interest to the average American cinema goer. He was also concerned that Marie would be a secondary character and unworthy of MGM's greatest asset. By the time the film went into production Thalberg had gone to the great studio in the sky but his doubts proved to be well-founded. It had the dubious distinction of being MGM's most expensively mounted sound film and the one that incurred the greatest losses.

So as not to confuse viewers with too many syllables the title was changed from 'Marie Walewska' to the simpler 'Conquest'. The costume designer, Adrian, was heard to ask:"Who cares about Napoleon?" Throughout the production everyone seemed to be asking themselves the same question with the notable exception of Charles Boyer who was concerned that French audiences would not find his portrayal satisfactory. Director Clarence Brown, making his seventh film with Garbo, was frustrated by a script from various writers which seemed to arrive in dribs and drabs. Garbo herself was weary and seemed to have given up the ghost. She was also much thinner thanks to a daily consumption of a health food concoction called Bieler's Broth.

Both Garbo and Boyer are consummate professionals and have some very good moments but are done no service by the ponderous script. Boyer has just the right touch of megalomania and Garbo's ability to convey 'thought' is mesmerising. The final farewell scene, written by Charles MacArthur, is beautifully understated.

Karl Freund is behind the camera in the absence of William Daniels and the score is by MGM regular Herbert Stothart. The exodus of Napoleon's army from Moscow is accompanied, naturally, by Tchaikovsky's '1812'.

Great supporting cast as one would expect and a gem of a performance from Maria Ouspenskaya as a senile Countess. As Marie's elderly husband Henry Stephenson epitomises nobility whilst Reginald Owen as Talleyrand epitomises duplicitous diplomacy.

For Garbo, the death of Thalberg and this film's failure turned out to be two devastating blows to the career of this magnetic, magnificent artiste. Despite the triumph of 'Ninotchka', the catastrophic 'Two-faced Woman' further hastened it's demise.

Footsteps in the Fog
(1955)

Gambling with Death and losing!
W.W.Jacobs was a master of the short story and 'The Interruption' is one of his most compelling. It is basically a two-hander in which recently widowed Spencer Goddard is locked in a battle of wills with his cook Hannah who knows his dreadful secret. So as to be rid of her he resorts to drastic measures.........

To say that the bare bones have been fleshed out in this film adaptation would be an understatement. Spencer Goddard has here become James Lowry whilst Hannah is now Lily Watkins. They are played respectively by husband and wife Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons. The beautiful and diminutive Miss Simmons is a far cry from the tall, angular figure with the 'lean, ugly throat' of Jacobs' imagining. By it's very nature film is all to do with 'compromise' and this is essentially a vehicle for one of the most glamorous couples of the time. Whereas in the original the cook is loathed by her master, here the sexual chemistry between the two is palpable.

Both Granger and Simmons are excellent in this and although Granger, as prickly as ever, did not attempt to disguise his dislike of director Arthur Lubin, he turns in one of his best performances as a narcissistic sociopath. Miss Simmons is both enchanting and touching enough to make us forgive her trespasses.

The 'added' characters are too numerous to mention and include what are usually termed the 'juvenile leads' played by Belinda Lee and Bill Travers. He loves her but she of course is mad about the cad Lowry. Miss Lee here is still fulfilling her duties as a Rank starlet before going off to Europe. She has what Byron called 'the fatal gift of Beauty' and one would hope it brought her at least a measure of happiness before her death at just 25. Travers was a crummy actor and his continued career in films remains one of life's mysteries. Nice to see inveterate scene stealers Ronald Squire and Finlay Currie.

Apart from 'The Phantom of the Opera' of 1943 this is probably Arthur Lubin's most prestigious film and he has done a pretty good job. One could pick a few holes in the plot but that does not lessen its entertainment value. The device of the incriminating letter in the original is developed here to great effect. There is a good courtroom scene and in keeping with the title, a splendid pea-souper. Great sense of period with atmospheric cinematography by Christopher Challis and an entrancing score by Benjamin Frankel.

I would recommend your reading Jacobs' original if only out of curiosity. It won't take you long!

Blanche Fury
(1948)

The curse of Fury's ape.
Although not having quite as impressive a CV as his brother Yves, director Marc Allegret is noted for his technical skill, elegant execution and for nurturing the talents of some fine French actors. Here he directs this loose adaptation of a Gothic novel which itself is based upon a true story.

It is a very stylish enterprise that boasts stunning cinematography by Guy Green and Geoffrey Unsworth and a sweeping score by Clifton Parker.

Stewart Granger teams up with Valerie Hobson. He is Adam, disinherited owing to his being born on the wrong side of the blanket and she is the Blanche of the title who has married for social position but comes to loathe her husband and father-in-law. Together they plan the perfect murder........

Granger and Hobson are very good together and are ably supported by Walter Fitzgerald, Maurice Denham and Michael Gough making his film debut.

Unfortunately a combination of a good cast and excellent production values does not guarantee a commercial success. Both Granger and Hobson felt that it didn't 'quite work' and her husband at the time, producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, said that the concept of a Gainsborough-type film with an 'edge' and featuring unsympathetic characters did not appeal to the paying public.

Sadly, the failure of this film was another nail in the coffin for Cineguild, formed in 1944 by Havelock-Allan, David Lean and Ronald Neame.

Allegret's film suffered the same fate as 'Saraband for dead Lovers', released the same year, also starring Stewart Granger. Both films can now be appreciated with the passage of time for their imagination, artistry and flair.

Androcles and the Lion
(1952)

"Christianity is contagious"
George Bernard Shaw put great trust in Gabriel Pascal and that trust was pretty well justified but one cannot help wondering what our second greatest playwright, had he lived to see it, would have thought of this sorry version of his two act play. It is not one of Shaw's greatest works to be sure but it deserved better than to be turned into a second rate 'sword-and-sandal' movie.

Lovely Jean Simmons is Lavinia, one of Shaw's customary strong, independent women who resists the manly charms of the 'handsome Captain' played by Victor Mature. Most of Mr. Mature's speeches have been cut which I'm sure was as much a relief to him as it is to us. He remains one of Hollywood's most accomplished Cigar Store Indians. As a Christian martyr Miss Simmons is warming up for her role as Diana in 'The Robe'. At the end Lavinia and the Captain agree to meet up occasionally in order to 'argue'. The mind boggles!

The only character whose Shavian dialogue remains largely intact is that of Ferrovious who is played superbly by Robert Newton. By far the best scene in the film is where he turns the other cheek to the Lentulus of Reginald Gardiner. Ferrovious is a man of violent disposition who has become a gentle giant since his conversion to Christianity. It is one of Shaw's trademark paradoxes that this man of peace, having slain a few gladiators, accepts an offer from the Emperor to join the Praetorian Guard. This is a theatrical device by which Shaw draws our attention to the horrors perpetrated by Mankind whilst holding a weapon in one hand and a Bible in the other.

The Emperor is one of Shaw's 'cynics' but Maurice Evans alas lacks the required bite. Such a pity that George Sanders, considered for the role, was unavailable.

Shaw's love of animals is evident here in his depiction of the Lion. It is played by Woody Strode, who later described this as his most difficult role!

I have purposely left the Androcles of Alan Young until last as his casting is without doubt the most contentious. By all accounts he was a replacement for Harpo Marx, surely one of the greatest clowns of all time. This showed a lamentable error of judgement on the part of Howard Hughes and must have contributed to the film's failure. Mr. Young enjoyed a long and successful career but this role requires far more than he is able to give. That is the politest way I can think of putting it.

Apparently, in order to spice things up, Nicholas Ray was brought in to direct an extra 'Vestal Virgin bathing scene' which unsurprisingly never made it to the screen. The film would not be complete of course without the mandatory close-ups of Roman ladies licking their lips at the prospect of seeing someone torn limb from limb. Chester Erskine is no Nicholas Ray and under his direction Shaw's 'fable' is just plain feeble.

Othello
(1965)

"Farewell the tranquil mind"
This is not 'filmed' Shakespeare as such, as are those of 'Othello' made by Orson Welles and Sergei Yutkevich but a record of the National Theatre production of 1964. Stuart Burge was certainly no great shakes as a film director, witness his 'Julius Caesar' of 1970(!) but here he has done a first rate job of transferring John Dexter's original production to the screen.

When interviewed for television by Kenneth Tynan in the mid-sixties, the viewing of which I would strongly recommend to those who are genuinely interested in the art of great acting, Laurence Olivier freely admitted that even by Shakesperean standards the role of Othello is 'a terror and almost unplayable'. There were no half-measures for Olivier of course and having taken on the role at the tender age of 58 he proceeded to dazzle us with the bravest and most strikingly original interpretation of modern times. He plays him as a savage who deludes himself that he is not easily made jealous. Not only did he build up his physique with weights but also added a few bass notes to his voice. Those to whom I have spoken who saw him on stage have described his performance as 'electrifying'.

Olivier knew full well, having played Iago to Ralph Richardson's Othello, that Iago can easily steal the show. After all he is onstage almost as much as Othello and W. H. Auden considered his to be the most interesting character. As played by the excellent Frank Finlay, Iago is a thoroughly dislikeable, charmless and humourless malcontent. Finlay's 'down to earth' style represents the perfect contrast to that of Othello's flamboyance and he certainly does not steal Olivier's thunder! By all accounts the production was not a happy experience for Maggie Smith and although on paper she is miscast as Desdemona her natural sensitivity shines through. Olivier brought Derek Jacobi to the National Theatre from his Chichester Festival Company and here he excels as Cassio. Jacobi remains one of the few actors alive who can still speak verse!

The production design is superb and Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is ravishing.

It is such a pity that Olivier's inspired interpretation is now frowned upon by the self-righteous PC brigade. I have also heard younger actors, who should know better, describing it as 'inappropriate' at best or at worst 'racist'. The simple fact is that since the film's release there has been a seismic social and cultural shift that has rendered it unacceptable; to the majority anyway. At the time, believe it or not, Olivier's portrayal was much admired by Sammy Davis Junior!

Monseigneur
(1949)

If I were King.
Bernard Blier with his short, portly stature and balding pate was never going to be a leading man but became one of France's best and best-loved character actors, enjoying a long and busy career that lasted until the year of his death. No one portrayed Everyman as convincingly as he and here he is perfectly cast as Louis, a humble, Left-leaning locksmith who is informed by wily archivist Pietrefond that he is the great-grandson of Louis XV11.

Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette were both slaughtered in 1793 and at the time Roger Richebe made this film, Royalists still clung to the belief that their son Louis-Charles had escaped from his imprisonment. Since then it has been established that the unfortunate boy died in prison having endured brutal treatment by his guards. Little wonder then that his descendant is not only feted by the Royalists and the cream of French society but is also seduced by a ravishing Duchesse. He is in for a surprise however when he discovers that the Archivist, for personal gain, has perpetrated a hoax.........

This is an utterly enchanting, delightfully entertaining piece, full of dry humour and beautifully performed by all. Blier conveys both humility and a constant sense of bewilderment as a working man who suddenly finds himself an object of veneration and Fernand Ledoux as Pietrefond is wonderfully nuanced, combining plausibility with moral ambiguity. The Royalists, headed by the elegant Duc de Saint-Gemain of Maurice Escande, are depicted as gentle, courteous and civilised folk desperate for a figurehead. As La Duchesse, Nadia Gray is in the full bloom of her beauty. In the final scene Louis, back to being a locksmith, standing in the Church of Saint-Denis, traditional resting place of the monarchs of France, utters the immortal line: "If only it were true." A marvellous moment.

Richebe is a sorely underrated director and although this film might be lightweight it really stands the test of time. It is thought by some to be 'Royalist propoganda' but true cinephiles, whatever their political persuasion, cannot fail to appreciate its quality.

Vu du pont
(1962)

"Sometimes God mixes up the people."
This comes from a particularly satisfying period in the career of Sidney Lumet. Based upon one of the masterpieces of American theatre, the exteriors are filmed in his beloved New York whilst the interiors are shot in France. It is a Franco-Italian production and having the three leading male protagonists speaking in broken English contributes immeasurably to the films authenticity.

It is pretty faithful to the original apart from the ending and in changing the role of the lawyer Alfieri from that of Greek chorus to the voice of reason. Longshoreman Eddie Carbone has no time for reason as he is ruled by the heart and not the head. Like so many tragic characters he is basically a decent man whose fatal flaw, in this case, his improper love for his teenage niece, destroys him.

Carbone here is played by ex-footballer Raf Vallone who belongs to that rare breed: a hunk who can act. He has given some strong portrayals in his time, notably in Dassin's 'Phaedra', but this powerhouse performance has it all and he is fully deserving of his David di Donatello award.

One of playwright Arthur Miller's favoured devices is to have what appears to be a happy domestic scene shattered by a catalyst which in this piece is the arrival of two of Mrs. Carbone's cousins from Italy. They are illegal immigrants but Eddie agrees to put them up and get them jobs on the docks. Tensions mount however as Carbone's beloved niece falls for one of them.......

The immigrants Marco and Rodolpho are played superbly by Raymond Pellegrin and Jean Sorel. This is, to my knowledge, Pellegrin's strongest role and Sorel of course was always underrated because of his impossibly good looks. Another performance to treasure is that of Carol Lawrence as the niece. An all round actress/singer/dancer she was denied the chance of reprising on screen her award winning stage role as Maria in 'West Side Story' and although on paper a wee bit too old for the part of Catherine, gives a magnificent performance. Sadly, this is her only film. As Mrs. Carbone we have the accomplished Maureen Stapleton, who combines strength and vulnerability. Mention must also be made of Morris Charnovsky as Alfieri. An excellent actor whose film career was scuppered after being 'named' by Elia Kazan to the HUAC.

Historically there is a strong connection between Kazan's 'On the Waterfront' and Miller's play, for those who care to look it up. Whereas in Kazan's film to inform is an act of heroism, here it is merely an act of betrayal.

Lumet's legendary skill with actors, Norman Rosten's screenplay, Michel Kelber's gritty cinematography and the beautifully understated score of Maurice Le Roux have given us a raw, stark, passionate, searing and visceral film which also seems to have served the playwright well. Let us hope Mr. Miller approved.

Major Barbara
(1941)

"Wot prawce selvytion nah?"
George Bernard Shaw, genius and Nobel Prize winner, is sadly out of fashion these days. How does one explain this? Perhaps because the theatre now lacks those with the talent and technique required to speak his dialogue and bring his characters to life or perhaps because the attention span of the average theatre goer is getting shorter. The fact that students at RADA recently wished to take down his bust because of his interest in Eugenics, is yet another nail in his coffin.

Film adaptations of his plays are a mixed bag, to put it mildly and some are too risible to mention. The greatest is indisputably the 'Pygmalion' of Anthony Asquith. The superlative editing on that film is courtesy of David Lean who fulfils that role once more in 'Major Barbara' and also acts as assistant director to Gabriel Pascal. How much influence Lean and fellow assistant Harold French had on the film is unknown but one thing is certain: Pascal is no Asquith!

The title character is another of Shaw's strong females and she is played by Wendy Hiller who had already excelled as Eliza Doolittle. To portray a character who is intensely 'moral' without being self-righteous is no easy task and Miss Hiller manages pull it off. Rex Harrison is Cusins, her devoted admirer, who is based on classical scholar/humanist Gilbert Murray. This part marks the start of Harrison's long association with the works of Shaw culminating in his Tony Award in 1984 as Captain Shotover in 'Heartbreak House'. David Tree had beautifully played Freddie in 1938 as a harmless twit and does so again here as Cholly Lomax. Marie Lohr is suitably imperious as Lady Britomart. This is not exactly Emlyn Williams' finest hour and his Cockney accent is atrocious. His portrayal epitomises the film's rather patronising attitude towards the 'lower orders'. Robert Newton is simply stupendous as malcontent Bill Walker and little wonder that Lean would later cast him as Bill Sykes.

In Shaw's plays there is invariably a Shavian 'realist', some might say 'cynic', whose voice is that of Shaw himself and whose function it is to utter incisive and unpalatable truths about the human condition. In this we have the fascinating Andrew Undershaft, known affectionately as the 'Prince of Darkness'. He is a self-made man who has made his millions as a munitions manufacturer and who regards 'poverty' as the greatest of all crimes. Although a little too young for the part he is played superbly by Robert Morley. One of his best scenes is with his son Stephen, played by Walter Hudd, who was in fact eleven years older than Morley. He advises him that as a man who knows nothing but who thinks he knows everything, a career in Politics beckons!

The play also takes a swipe at Religion, which didn't exactly increase its popularity in the United States! Undershaft declares that 'being a millionaire is my religion' and Barbara herself realises that she must pursue her religious aims through the capitalists 'whose hands stretch everywhere'.

Shaw was born in 1856 and it is marvellous to think that he was still around in 1941 to 'collaborate' on the script. Lean's editing is again exemplary and the production design of Vincent Korda, especially that of Undershaft's 'Death Factory', is magnificent. Fine score by one of our greatest composers, William Walton.

Although this film misses the Asquith touch it is, all-in-all, a very satisfactory version of Shaw's morality tale in which it is not the love of money but the lack of it that is the root of all evil. The happy Hollywood-style ending is not exactly what the playwright had in mind but is obviously there so as to send wartime audiences out of the cinema wearing a smile.

The Rose Tattoo
(1955)

Mamma mia!
'The Rose Tattoo' is not one of Tennessee Williams' greatest plays but he has again written one of his many marvellous roles for actresses who are strong enough and brave enough to take them on.

Here we have the widow Serafina played by that force of Nature, Anna Magnani. Many feel that she was born to play the part. Williams was obviously of the same opinion as he wrote it for her! She did in fact decline to play the role on stage as she felt her English was not up to scratch and Maureen Stapleton, directed by Daniel Mann, created the role to great acclaim. However hard Magnani tried, the language always seemed to defeat her but that matters not as her emotional range, intensity and sheer 'heart' more than compensate.

Daniel Mann again directs and again proves his legendary skill with actresses. Burt Lancaster had worked previously with Mann on 'Come back, little Sheba' and in this he plays the part of truck driver Alvaro Mangiacavallo who falls for Serafina and will not take no for an answer. This character represents a tall order. He is Sicilian, a simpleton, has the body of an Adonis but 'the head of a clown' and for Hollywood purposes has to be played by an actor who is 'box office'. It is a very demanding role and although Lancaster would seem to fit the bill and has some fine moments he just about gets away with it thanks to his undeniable star quality. Both stars also exhibit a sense of comedy in their scenes but the 'chemistry' alas, is just not there.

Unsurprisingly, Marlon Brando was considered for the role and would go on to play opposite La Magnani in 'The Fugitive Kind', based on Williams' 'Orpheus Descending' in which she again played a character created by Maureen Stapleton! It was left to Visconti to make a real Sicilian out of Lancaster in 'The Leopard.' Great support here from Marisa Pavan, Jo van Fleet and Virginia Grey. There is an excellent score by Alex North.

This is just one of many fine films directed by Daniel Mann throughout the fifties when he could do wrong. Sadly his star began to wane in the sixties and apart from 'Five Finger Exercise' the quality of the material he was assigned to direct was unworthy of his talents.

Magnani, who justifiably garnered accolades and awards for her powerhouse performance, was once described by director William Dieterle as "the last of the great shameless emotionalists". There's no shame in that!

Aleksandr Nevskiy
(1938)

Hunting the Russian Bear.
It beggars belief that ten years were to elapse between Sergei Eisenstein's last silent film and his first film with sound. These years were especially frustrating for him, marked by unrealised, aborted, incompleted projects and the near destruction of his 'Bezhin Meadow'. There was a great deal at stake for Eisenstein when making 'Aleksandr Nevskiy' as it represented a 'last chance saloon' in his strained relationship with Stalin. Dealing as it does with the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in 13th Century, it was withdrawn from circulation after the signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany but returned in triumph following Hitler's invasion in 1941.

Eisenstein's films are known for their 'set pieces' which once seen are never forgotten. in 'October' we have amongst others the 'God and our Country' sequence and the most iconic of all of course, the astonishing scene on the steps in 'Battleship Potemkin.' Here we have the 'Battle on the Ice' which has had the most profound influence on future film makers not least Olivier in 'Henry V' and Welles in 'Chimes at Midnight'. It must surely have influenced Kubrick in 'Spartacus' as the slave army watches the legions of Crassus forming for battle.

Never was there a greater synthesis between imagery and music than in this film. Many have remarked upon its 'symphonic structure' and Eisenstein has acknowledged his debt to the 'magician' Sergei Prokofiev. The mesmerising images are courtesy of another 'magician', cinematographer Edouard Tisse. This is 'operatic cinema' to be sure in which the brutality of the battle is contrasted with the incredibly tender scene between Olga, who has bravely fought and the two badly wounded warriors competing for her favours. She chooses Gavrilo but Vasili finds ample compensation with the equally brave Vasilisa. That women are fighting alongside the men is obviously part of the film's undeniable propogandist element but this master film maker has worked it in wonderfully. One is struck by the strength and character of the entire cast and who better to play Prince Alexander than the mighty Nicolai Cherkasov who happened to be one of Uncle Joe's favourite actors.

Referring to his colleague Dziga Vertov's phrase 'Kino-Eye', Eisenstein said he much preferred 'Kino-Fist' and eighty years on this film still packs a punch.

Khartoum
(1966)

"A world where there is no room for the Gordons...will return to the sands."
This is unlikely to be on anyone's list of films that must be seen before one dies and there are certainly directors who would have made a better job of it than Basil Dearden but it remains nonetheless a commendable attempt to depict what must surely be considered a blot(one of many!) on our colonial history. There are historical inaccuracies too numerous to mention, as critics have been quick to point out, but what do they expect? It is after all, a movie! It boasts a literate script by anthropologist Robert Ardrey and a score by Frank Cordell with a suitably Elgarian main theme. The action scenes are well-handled and the performances strong. The two major protagonists General Charles Gordon and Muhammed el Mahdi are played by Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier. Their casting raised a few eyebrows and a blacked-up Olivier as the Mahdi is more controversial now in this era of political correctness and 'inclusiveness'. Even more controversial at this time was Olivier's playing of Shakespeare's Othello and as the Mahdi he is able to use the bass notes he had acquired whilst preparing for that role. None of us has the least idea what the Mahdi was like so he is open to interpretation. Olivier's portrayal is not simply that of a religious fanatic but is sly, cunning and pragmatic. Heston is a marvellous presence and conveys well Gordon's 'mysticism', his English accent is pretty good and he more than holds his own in his scenes with Olivier and the splendid Ralph Richardson as Gladstone. Richard Johnson is suitably stiff-backed as Colonel Stewart and there is great support from a cast of 'stalwarts'. King of the 'dubbers', Robert Rietty, makes his customary contribution. I confess to being intrigued as to why Peter Arne plays both the Khedive and Kitchener. Couldn't they afford another actor or couldn't they be bothered? Martin Scorsese freely confesses that this film, despite its weaknesses, is one of his 'guilty pleasures'. He is not alone in that I'm sure.

8 femmes
(2002)

Cosi fan tutte.
When asked by a journalist if director Francois Ozon liked women, Catherine Deneuve replied: "He certainly likes actresses." Ozon definitely has a knack with these enigmatic, fascinating and unpredictable creatures and shares that trait with, among others, Pedro Almadovar and the late George Cukor. Ironically Ozon had intended a remake of Cukor's 'The Women' but was prevented by Copyright from doing so. Luckily for him and for us he discovered potential in Robert Thomas' play of 1958. This film is both a pastiche of and an unashamed tribute to directors Sirk and Hitchcock, costume designer Edith Head and film composers Hermann and Rozsa. It is stylish, glamorous and hugely enjoyable but not without its darker moments. When Marcel, the patriarch and sole male of the household is found dead with a knife between his shoulder blades suspicion falls on the seven women in the house, including the cook and the maid. They are joined by the slinky, sensual Pierrette of Fanny Ardant whose presence complicates the situation even further. To top it all, the telephone wires have been cut and the house is blocked in by heavy snowfall....... It is difficult to highlight particular performances as this is very much an ensemble piece but one cannot fail to mention veteran Danielle Darrieux who defies her eighty-five years as the boozy grandmother. On a purely shallow, superficial level Emmanuelle Beart in a maid's outfit is utterly irresistible and the spectacle of Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant rolling around on the carpet is guaranteed to quicken the pulse. If Francois Truffaut were looking down he'd have a damn good laugh! The most difficult role would seem to be the Augustine of Isabelle Huppert who is stupendous as always. The musical numbers are not too demanding and are performed in character and with esprit. They all make it look so easy but material such as this is notoriously difficult to bring off. An inspired concept and beautifully executed by all. When the cast holds hands and stands in a line at the end one fully expects the curtain to fall and the applause to begin. Herbert Lom once observed that making a film involves a bunch of egomaniacs trying to give the impression of working as part of a team. This did not pose a problem for Ozon who said: "All the egos cancelled each other out"!

Fame Is the Spur
(1947)

Practical politics.
Howard Spring's novel covering the history of the socialist labour movement was published in 1940, three years after the death of Ramsay MacDonald, on whom the leading character is supposedly based. I think it fair to say that although it might have been 'suggested' by MacDonald's life, there are too many dissimilarities and his political career was far more impressive and influential than that of Hamer Shawcross. In the film adaptation of 1947 Shawcross has been changed to Radshaw so as not to offend an MP with the same surname and is played by Michael Redgrave. This was a busy period for Redgrave with four films released. He was a complex and tortured man but undoubtedly one of the most brilliant and charismatic actors that this or any other country has produced. The part of Hamer is a gift to any actor and would have been of great appeal to Redgrave who was known for his Leftist beliefs. With the notable exception of Andrew Crocker-Harris, this has to be Redgrave's greatest film performance. The very nature of fim requires compromises and here the novel has been condensed so as to focus on character types who are, shall we say 'representative'. Hamer is a man who has gone from idealistic Marxist campaigner to being very much a part of the Establishment that he originally despised. An excellent Hugh Burden is his childhood friend who cannot forgive Hamer's betrayal of his Socialist principles, whilst Bernard Miles symbolises the self-made man and unashamed capitalist. The Tory faction is depicted by the pleasant but ineffectual Lord Liskeard of David Tomlinson. Hamer's wife, who comes to represent the Suffragette element, is splendidly portrayed by Rosamund John. Her customary 'tweeness' is not apparent here and she has some fine moments. I have not seen all of Roy Boulting's output but of the ones I have seen this is surely his most satisfying. His overall direction and pacing are exemplary. The scenes involving the protesting miners are very powerful and the final scene where the aged Hamer fails to pull his Peterloo sword from its rusty scabbard is unforgettable. The talent behind the camera is just as impressive as that in front of it. Legendary Austrian cameraman Gunther Krampf has contributed a marvellous combination of Naturalist/Expressionist cinematography whilst the powerful score of John Wooldridge, taken from us at just 48, reveals his musical debt to his teacher Sibelius. The adaptation has the depth and intelligence one has come to expect from author Nigel Balchin. The title comes appropriately from Milton, not only one of our greatest poets but of a revolutionary nature himself. Fame might be the spur but 'to scorn delights and live laborious days' is something most of us go out of our way to avoid!

Mirage
(1965)

A slight memory lapse.
Hitchcock's masterful 'North by Northwest' starring the inimitable Cary Grant, with a superlative screenplay by Ernest Lehmann, has cast a long shadow. The plot of an innocent man being caught up in a web of intrigue proved irresistible to film makers, especially throughout the 1960's, with decidedly mixed results! This film of Edward Dymytryk is certainly a cut above most of the others and despite its slow pace holds our attention courtesy of a fine cast, excellent editing by veteran Ted J. Kent and yet another splendid screenplay by Peter Stone based upon the novel of Howard Fast. Stone had already written or co-written two successful films featuring Cary Grant and went on to write 'Arabesque' for Gregory Peck. The latter film proves that in light comedy Peck is no Grant(who is?!) but in 'Mirage' his solid presence, upright persona and air of integrity make him perfect casting as David Stillwell who is living a nightmare as a man whose amnesia, caused by a massive emotional shock, causes him to lose both his identity and two years of his life. To make matters worse he gets no joy from the police and is dismissed as a fraud by a psychiatrist! If that weren't enough he is pursued by a bunch of psychopaths working for someone called 'The Major', hires a private detective whose first case it is and encounters a fascinating female from his past who appears to have known him intimately. The fog finally lifts and there is an excellent final scene involving a game of Russian Roulette. A film such as this only works if one cares what happens to the main character and we are with Mr. Peck all the way. Appearing in the film are Walter Matthau as the detective and George Kennedy as a thug. Both these actors had appeared in 'Charade' and were awaiting that crucial 'breakthrough' role. For Matthau this came in 'The Fortune Cookie' and for Kennedy in 'Cool Hand Luke'. Everything comes to he who waits it is said but in the acting profession, not necessarily! The female interest is supplied by classy Diane Baker whose line;"I'm a girl. I'm supposed to be a sissy" is bound to cause apoplexy among the feminists. Mention must be made of the cinematography of Joseph MacDonald which makes one lament the passing of black-and-white and there is an early score from Quincy Jones who would soon become arranger/conductor for Sinatra. Apparently Rock Hudson was considered for the leading role but instead made 'Blindfold' which must surely come in the category 'sub-standard Hitchcock'. Let's face it, not only was Hudson no Cary Grant, he was no Gregory Peck!

The Devil's Disciple
(1959)

"History, sir, will tell lies. As usual."
When wearing his 'producer's hat' Burt Lancaster was a noted nemesis for directors. Due to 'artistic differences' he had Charles Crichton replaced on 'Birdman of Alcatraz' and Arthur Penn on 'The Train', in both cases substituting John Frankenheimer. Judging by the great results those decisions proved to be justified. Although Alexander Mackendrick was notorious for 'taking his time', whether giving him the old heave-ho in favour of Guy Hamilton has resulted in a better film is highly debatable. I have no idea who directed what but there is a marked contrast in style throughout the film which does it no favours. It has been suggested that Mackendrick was responsible for the scenes featuring Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne. This would hardly be surprising as they are the best scenes in the whole film. This is definitely not for Shavian purists but the cynical humour of the piece and the lampooning of the military mentality come across extremely well. G. B. Shaw was a master of Paradox and here we have dastardly Dick Dudgeon prepared to assume the identity of another man and take his place on the gallows. That other man is the Reverend Anderson who is transformed from pacifist to militiaman. They are played respectively by Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster who both bring their undoubted charisma and star quality but Douglas has the better role and performs with relish. It is the Shavian 'realist' General Burgoyne as played by Olivier who leaves a lasting impression. Like so many great actors Olivier was a thoroughbred who needed to be kept on a tight rein. Some directors were better at doing this than others! He is mannered here to be sure but his style, sparkle and inimitable delivery are riveting. He is gifted the best lines of course, notably: 'Martyrdom is the only way a man can become famous without ability'. It would not be long before he would again play opposite Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus'. His characterisation as Crassus compared to his General Burgoyne exemplifies what a brilliantly gifted artiste he was. The play has been taken out of the proscenium arch but the action sequences are ineffectual and those involving model soldiers rather infantile. The overall impact of the film is lessened by having a reduced budget and being shot in black-and-white. Splendid score by Richard Rodney Bennett. Lancaster and Douglas made seven films together and although not one of the best this is decidedly not one of the worst!

Le dialogue des Carmélites
(1960)

"Life is nothing when it is so debased."
I am no doubt in the minority in believing the French Revolution to represent one of the peaks of human insanity and proof positive that when something undesirable is overthrown it is succeeded by something infinitely worse. The 'realists' of course will say that one cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. The 'broken eggs' in this case are the seventeen thousand odd who were guillotined during the Reign of Terror, not to mention the countless numbers who were executed without trial, died in prison or who were massacred by 'les citoyens'. In 1794, as a result of the process known as 'de-Christianisation', sixteen Carmelite nuns were publicy executed for refusing to renounce their faith. Many will be aware of the powerful opera based on this event by Poulenc and some might even have seen it! The novel by Gertrud von Le Fort was adapted for the stage by the esteemed Georges Bernanos and this film version has been adapted by Philippe Agostini and Raymond Leopold Bruckburger, an ordained priest. This has been co-directed by Agostini and Bruckburger but who directed what and to what extent, is unknown. Agostini began as a cinematographer and his cameraman's 'eye' is very much in evidence here although it is officially shot by Andre Bac. Excellent score by Jean Francaix and art direction by Maurice Collason. The cast is uniformly excellent. I would hazard a guess that artistes of the calibre of Jeanne Moreau, Alida Valli, Pierre Brasseur and Madeleine Renaud are pretty bomb-proof and shine regardless of direction but one cannot help but feel that the film itself is missing the touch of a really first rate director. Considering his successful collaborations with Bernanos and that Bruckburger wrote his first film 'Angels of Sin', Robert Bresson would seem the ideal choice to direct but he had already disdained to work with professional actors. The name of Georges Franju springs to mind also. Although the piece is lacking in some respects, it is the strong performances, sense of period and highly emotive material that carry it through. The final scene is devastating and is made even more so by the directors' decision to allow us to use our imagination by showing us neither the instrument of execution nor to hear the horrible sound of the blade descending. Not a great film but a very good one which serves to remind us that when fanaticism is on the march, nothing and no one is sacred.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
(1970)

The curious case of the missing masterpiece.
What American film makers have done to Sherlock Holmes from the 1970's onwards amounts to celluloid crime. They have inflicted upon us the risible 'Seven per cent solution' and the infantile 'Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother' to name but two. We have also had to endure portrayals of the Baker Street sleuth by George C. Scott, Charlton Heston, Robert Downey Jnr. Will Ferrel, Roger Moore, Michael Caine and more recently Ian McKellen as a Holmes with dementia. If that weren't enough we have had the animated 'Sherlock Gnomes' and now heaven help us, Sherlock Holmes' sister! All of the above are too hideous to contemplate and it is with great relief that I come to Billy Wilder's 'satirical homage' to Conan Doyle's great creation. Editor Ernest Walter was assigned the unenviable task of reducing the running time by more than half. The question is, did the loss of two stories make it less of a film? Judging by the extracts of 'missing scenes' on You Tube, I think 'not' but will no doubt be shot down in flames for saying so. The inclusion of those scenes would certainly have made it far more of a parody than is the surviving footage but what remains is parody enough in my opinion. It is the strange mixture of irreverence and homage, satire and sadness that tends to hamper my enjoyment of it. It begins very well and the scenes involving Imperial Ballet director Rogozhin, superbly played by Clive Revill, the Prima Ballerina Madame Petrova of Tamara Toumanova and the Holmes of Robert Stephens are masterful. We are then introduced to the enigmatic and fascinating Gabrielle Valladon played by the equally enigmatic and fascinating Genevieve Page. After that the film somehow loses focus and momentum and the later scenes in Inverness are distinctly lame and rather childish. It is only since his death that we have learned how troubled a soul was actor Robert Stephens who reportedly attempted suicide during the making of this. His demeanor suits admirably the director's concept of Holmes as not just an analytical thinking machine but as a mere mortal with the same flaws and hang ups as the rest of us. Wilder's concept of Dr. Watson as an overgrown schoolboy is not really to my taste but Colin Blakely does well enough. Certainly not to my taste is Christopher Lee as Mycroft. He has the unique distinction of having played Mycroft and Sherlock on film and both portrayals highlight his limitations as an actor. Apparently he was a last minute replacement for the inimitable George Sanders. What a pity. Actress Mollie Maureen, through no fault of her own, is a grotesque caricature of Queen Victoria whilst the Scottish accent of Stanley Holloway as the gravedigger needs to be heard to be abhorred. The melancholic, bitter sweet nature of the film is underlined by the music of maestro Miklos Rozsa. He has the taken the more lyrical elements of the Violin Concerto he wrote for Jascha Heifetz in 1956 and incorporated them into one of his greatest scores. Alexandre Trauner's production design is, as always, exemplary. As one would expect from this director, the verbal takes precedence over the visual and textually reveals Wilder's undeniable respect for and knowledge of Conan Doyle's world. This material was close to Wilder's heart and he could not fail to be wounded by the critical mauling it received and the total disinterest of cinema goers. One is inclined to treat it kindly because it comes from Billy Wilder but despite its merits it must alas be considered a 'near miss' as indeed were his subsequent films. Old directors never die, it is said. They just lose their sense of direction!

Place Vendôme
(1998)

Diamonds are a girl's best friend?
By the time she made this Catherine Deneuve was already a veteran of over seventy films and almost twenty years had passed since she came of age as a 'mature' actress in 'Le Dernier Metro' for director Francois Truffaut. Her entry into films was undeniably aided by her good looks but it is a combination of astute career choices and a tireless work ethic that have sustained her long career. In Nicole Garcia's film she again proves that she is a mistress of her craft as Marianne, alcoholic wife of a diamond merchant. Facing bankcrupty he commits suicide and her subsequent attempts to sell diamonds that he had stolen get her into all sorts of trouble with an assortment of well-tailored, well-groomed low-lifes. This is definitely for those who like their films to be stylish and glamorous. It looks wonderful courtesy of Laurent Dailland's cinematography and Thierry Flamand's art direction. It is decidedly not for those who prefer worthy vehicles with a social message. This is the kind of film that usually attracts the comment: 'Style over substance'. There is little substance here to be sure but Garcia has assembled a good cast, notably splendid actor/writer Jean-Pierre Bacri, best known for his collaborations with his wife Anges Jaoui and the delectable Emmanuelle Seigner whose character beds not only Marianne's husband but her former and current lover also. Small world! Granted, Mlle Garcia's film might not be flawless but it is certainly well-polished.

Les dimanches de Ville d'Avray
(1962)

"I am nothing"
Shortly after winning the Palme d'Or for his short film 'Le Sourire', young director Serge Bourguignon was one of a few directors offered the chance of adapting 'Les Dimanches de ville d'Avray' of Bernard Eschasseriaux for the screen. He took out the 'gangster' element and based the leading character on a pilot he had met who had suffered amnesia when his plane crashed during combat in Indochina. Pierre is a victim of what is now termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has retreated into his shell. He is deeply loved and supported by his nurse Madeleine but this is not enough to rid him of his sense of worthlessness. Fate brings him into contact with a girl who has previously lost her mother and has been effectively abandoned by her father in a Catholic convent. She begs Pierre not to let them send her to a Council orphanage, so, posing as her father, he collects her every Sunday for outings in the woods. These two lonely souls form a spiritual bond and theirs is a magical relationship between a man who is very much a child and a child who is very much an adult. It is not long however before the locals begin to question the nature of their friendship....... Bourguignon had originally wanted Steve McQueen for the role of Pierre. He would have been ideal of course but he was far too expensive and anyway would have needed to be dubbed. Once Hardy Kruger came on board the funding materialised but the finished film was considered too 'arty' and depressing by its American backers(naturally!) and was destined for oblivion. We owe a great debt of thanks to Richard Davis who ran it at his Film Arts Cinema on E 58th street in New York. It played to capacity houses, the critical response was ecstatic and it went on to win the Oscar. The response in France was muted and the director blamed the Cahiers du Cinema/New Wave contingent for this. The film is a phenomenal achievement by any standards let alone a debut feature and everything 'gels'. Bourguignon was very specific as to the music being effective but not memorable and one is almost unaware of Maurice Jarre's low key score. The director also wanted the look of his film to resemble a Japanese watercolour. Shot in black-and-white during Winter this is one of cinematographer Henri Decae's greatest achievements. The acting from all is top class. Nicole Courcel as Madeleine, whose good intentions lead to such tragic results, is simply stupendous. Patricia Gozzi as Cybele had been spotted by Bourguignon in a miniscular role in 'Leon Morin, Pretre' and he was taken by her expressive eyes. The splendid Hardy Kruger certainly has his work cut out in matching her spontaneity but their on-screen partnership is made in heaven. Gozzi's performance is nothing short of wondrous and her final lament, echoing that of Pierre's earlier in the film, is heart rending. One more excellent performance was to come from this actress in 'Rapture' before marriage intervened. It is such a pity that Bourguignon was unable to build on his promising start as the remainder of his career comprises two disappointing films and countless unrealised projects. In light of this we should be even more grateful for his having given us this masterpiece of the seventh art, the story of which serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of innocence.

Judex
(1963)

"What's all this about nuns?"
Louis Feuillade, one of the true pioneers of cinema whose work has undeniably influenced Lang and Hitchcock, had been criticised for glorifying villainy in his hugely popular serials 'Fantomas' and 'Les Vampires'. He redressed the balance somewhat by creating Judex, a hero who is both judge and jury. Director Georges Franju has managed here to reduce the original 5 hour, 12 episode original to just 97 minutes which is no mean feat although unavoidably, compromises have had to be made. Some have confessed to being baffled by the twists and turns of the admittedly condensed plot but their bafflement quite frankly baffles me as the film is sufficiently well-constructed and the pace certainly slow enough not to cause confusion. Feuillade's work is known for its anarchy and surrealism. This adaptation has little anarchy and its surrealism is mixed with realism. This is Lunacy restrained. Essentially a film of moments, or 'set pieces' if you like, Franju's unique visual style and sense of atmosphere make it mesmerising to watch. Behind every great fortune there is usually a great crime and banker Favraux, played superbly by Michel Vitold, has enriched himself by the Panama Scandal. He is called to account for his crime in an anonymous letter which threatens death at midnight if he does not atone and return to his victims his ill-gotten gains. He chooses to ignore this warning and at the stroke of midnight at a masked ball he appears to drop dead, only to awaken in an old castle to find himself the prisoner of a mysterious figure in a cloak and a slouch hat............. Judex is here played by Channing Pollock, a handsome hunk who made a few European costume films at this time. He began as a magician and in this is able to perform his famous 'dove act'. As an actor alas, he is a plank. Franju regular Edith Scob as the banker's daughter is required to do little more than play a Miss Goody Two Shoes but the camera loves her will o' the wisp persona. Saints are not nearly as interesting as sinners of course and by far the most fascinating character is that of Diana di Monti. As a ruthless, sensual and utterly deranged villainess she is a gift to any actress and is here played with relish and aplomb by Francine Berge, complete with catsuit and nun's habit, wielding a dagger and a hypodermic needle. Her choreographed fight on the rooftop with luscious Sylva Koscina as Daisy the circus performer is guaranteed to quicken the pulse. Franju is reported to have said of Daisy's character: "I could have done without her" but happily for us he couldn't! Jacques Jouanneau does a good turn as the incompetent detective Cocantin and there is a captivating performance by Benjamin Boda as Reglisse the boy. Also of interest is a brief appearance as a doctor by Andre Melies, son of that other pioneer director, Georges. Mention must be made of Robert Giordani's superlative art direction, Marcel Fradetal's magnificent cinematography and Maurice Jarre's atmospheric score. Whatever its weaknesses this bizarre opus is immensely entertaining and can be revisited with pleasure. Ideally one could have done with a little more flamboyance but that after all, is simply not Franju's way.

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