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Reviews

Turn the Key Softly
(1953)

Superficial but honestly portrayed day-in-the-life ex con drama
A British drama; A story about three women released from Holloway prison who set about the difficult task of staying on the straight and narrow. This well-paced social drama deals with themes such as prison stigma and hope for a bright future. The film grdually falters to melodrama but only barely. Its three leading actresses manage to keep the dialogue interesting. Joan Collins is excellent as the girl who has longed for the richness of life outside prison and whose bravado belies a vulnerable state of mind. Yvonne Mitchell is also very good as a middle class woman who stands a better chance but is hampered by a boyfriend. Kathleen Harrison memorably portrays a sympathetic modest working class figure. The story ends with flat out coincidence and a contrived finale, and it ends abruptly too, but up to that point we are carried by characters about whom we are led to feel compassion for.

The Fallen Idol
(1948)

Gripping mystery about secrets and lies
A British mystery; A story told almost completely from a child's view, based on Graham Greene's short story "The Basement Room". The son of a French Ambassador to London idolizes the household butler, but when matters become complicated about an affair and then suspected murder, the little boy is asked to lie. Director Carol Reed crafts an intriguing story about viewpoint and perspective intermixed with lies and betrayal. Bobby Henrey is superb as the young boy, naturalistic and convincing. Ralph Richardson delivers a good performance as the decent butler with human flaws. There is good support from an array of supporting actor talent in Jack Hawkins, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Dora Bryan and Dennis O'Dea. Its real brilliance is the counterpoint between adult themes of guilt and intrigue and an innocent child's craving for love and attention but having his childhood betrayed when he misunderstands the real world of adult trickery.

Ring of Spies
(1964)

Light on thrills but it has interesting machinations
A British spy thriller; A story about a British navy clerk assigned to a top secret research facility. He is blackmailed into stealing vital secrets for the Russians in exchange for cash. Set during the height of the Cold War, it is based on the true events of the Portland Spy Ring, where daily duels play out between Soviet Intelligence and British counter-espionage. Tension is undermined by the docudrama style but the playout of the espionage activities is absorbing. While Bernard Lee gives a reasonable performance, he is not a sympathetic character as the lead so it ends up a simple drawn out morality tale. His cohort, played Margaret Tyzack, while initially innocent, is drawn to venal motivation without much of a struggle, so the drama is rather pedestrian at times.

The Glenn Miller Story
(1954)

Sentimental and bland at times, but an exhilirating and commendable biopic
An American drama; A story about a famous bandleader and trombonist who was king of the swing, rising up from his college days to the pinnacle of his career. This biopic has a sentimental tone, plays lightly on the story and doesn't give the most in-depth study of Glenn Miller's life and fateful end, but it has an impeccable supporting cast and the music, adapted by Henry Mancini, is bewitching, recreated the famous tunes with stunning fidelity. James Stewart is wonderful as the man who rose from pit-orchestra trombone player to leader of a successful big band with music that became truly world famous in the 1940s.

The Last Hurrah
(1958)

Robustly entertaining, underpinned by sentimentality
An American drama; A story about a headstrong New England Irish-American mayor who launches one final re-election campaign. However, he finds the nature of politics is changing and that he has a powerful enemy in a wealthy and influential local banker. This is a sentimental film but also touching and moving which is down to its scenes of humour and high spirits. It is directed with proficiency by John Ford, though perhaps he lets it run a little overboard. Spencer Tracy gives consummate depth to his performance as the political man who gets things done down to sheer dynamism: appealing to young and old, turning on the charm of Irish blarney to iron-hard calculation and cut-throat expediency behind the scenes.

The Small Back Room
(1949)

A well-crafted suspenseful drama set during WWII
A British thriller; A story set in 1943 about boffins in the technical and scientific agency in the UK which helps the war effort. A scientista nd research worker is called upon to defuse an unexploded German doodlebug. This is a film based on a novel by Nigel Balchin. It is suspenseful with a certain German experessionistic touch in its style. It has a theme about responsibility and self-confidence and difficulties in political situations and in war where one's actions that can potentially endanger the lives of others. The conviction of this theme is down to the skilled performance of David Farrar. There are some impressive surrealistic scenes of alcoholic oblivion, and good drama between Farrar and Kathleen Byron as he battles the temptations of the demon drink and other complex aspects in his character. Its finale has enthralling sequence with brilliant editing tempting the audience about a man's potential hour of glory.

Habit
(2017)

Unsavoury cannibal drama lacks bite
A British horror; A modern noir with themes of misery and subversion of conventional morality. This is an engaging film, mercifully ungratuitous given the graphic brutality and violence. The cinematography sets the tone well with a seedy criminal underworld and repulsive characters. However, not enough is explained about character motivation so we are left with fantasy and not much more. While the dialect and vernacular is consistent with setting, it often lacks articulation and the overuse of foul language produces some redundancy. Some of the acting ranges from the melodramatic to the ungainly.

Reap the Wild Wind
(1942)

Ripping watery yarn bookended by spectacular action sequences
An American romantic adventure; A story set in Key West, Florida about the owner of a 19th-century salvage company who falls in love with a captain she rescues from a shipwreck, and helps him prove in court that the bore no blame for the vessel's sinking. However, a rivalry for her affections ensues when a lawyer comes to his aide. This maritime swashbuckler about companies racing to wrecks to salvage their contents, is great surface entertainment with sumptuous over-saturated colour. Thanks to Cecil B. De Mille's direction it sustains interest, and the superlative art direction and cinematography make it a very attractive film to watch. It also has some impressive action sequences too, which earned it an Academy Award for effects. That's just as well because it has a soft middle: perfunctory drama, and sluggish in courtroom theatrics. Paulette Goddard is suitably boisterous and charming, John Wayne is watchable, but Ray Milland is a little stiff where romantic charm was required.

A Man for All Seasons
(1966)

Stirring film about personal tribulations
A British historical drama; A story about Henry VIII's decision to divorce Catherine of Aragon which leads to a clash with the Roman Catholic Church and his own lord chancellor Sir Thomas More. To force his will, the king demands More's approval but More is resolute. This fine film about religious discussions, arguments, and accusations. It deals with themes such as obstinacy, the honour of kingship and political opportunism but its main focus is the dilemma an honest man faces in a corrupt society. It is a literate, humane treatment of a true story profoundly stirring in its dramatic conception, appealing to the mind and the heart, and the ear. To the eye it gives some limited splendour in terms of set design and staging, but the performances take the main credit. Paul Scofield delivers a triumphant performance as Sir Thomas More, the man of virtue who wins the moral argument but loses a more vital one. Robert Shaw as Henry is very well cast as the intelligent, robust monarch. There is excellent support from Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey; John Hurt, Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, Corin Redgrave and Susannah York. The film has a brilliant screenplay with some brilliant exchanges. The drama never lags and has good pacing.

The First Gentleman
(1948)

Absorbing romantic drama, grandly staged but plays at a snail's pace
A British historical drama; A story set in 1811 following the Napoleonic wars. The Prince Regent (the future King George IV of England) attempts to marry off his unruly daughter Princess Charlotte to Prince William of Orange, but it is to no avail because she has other ideas. This entertaining drama about star-crossed lovers is based on a play, The First Gentleman by Norman Ginsbury. It is attractively staged and lusciously costumed. It has humorous touches to give it levity above its stuffiness and busy sets but it moves at a slow pace and the plotline tends to drag. Cecil Parker is not ideally cast as George, but he carries off the humour and vain and excess effectively. Jean-Pierre Aumont as the German heads the cast and is charming casting his romantic spell. Tom Gill as the boorish Prince of Holland is outstanding. It culminates in true romance and startling tragedy.

Banshun
(1949)

A truly masterful study of character
A Japanese drama; A story set in postwar Japan about a woman devoted to her widowed father, content with caring for him. However, her aunt believes she should get married and aims to match-make her. This is a vey moving and poignat film, brilliantly structured with a superb poise, dealing with themes about progress and the family life, balancing the sense of loss with an optimism about the future. It is a film that demonstrates wonderful harmony of composition, tone and performance. The emotions captured are universal but the social customs are purely Japanese.

Randy Rides Alone
(1934)

Offbeat oater with good atmosphere
An American Western; A story about a man who enters a saloon and discovers a massacre has just happened. The local law enforcement arrive and arrest him for murder. A witness comes to his aid, though bandits provide a further threat to his safety before he aims to find who is behind the crime. This thin-plotted B-movie has an eerie, atmospheric first act which sets the tone well. It's a routine storyline, but effectively directed and its script is satisfactory. There is also some fine stuntwork to keep the interest.

Rainbow Valley
(1935)

Modest oater with insufficient action for its running time
An American Western; A story about an undercover government agent who goes to jail in order to find out who's behind a hold up of a highway development in a mining town. John Wayne is callow and gauche in his delivery but he produces some dashing form, and "Gabby" Hayes is humorous as the "old timer" aiding his efforts. But, this is a very generic adventure with an uneven storyline, poor dialogue and clumsy direction. The stuntwork is the better aspect of the film.

Paradise Canyon
(1935)

Routine, but action-packed oater
An American Western; A story set in Arizona about a government agent who goes in search of criminals running a counterfeiting scheme. Undercover, he joins a travelling Wild West show to keep an eye on its manager, an ex-convict, who is out for revenge. This film has uninspiring direction, but with a screenplay that has a light hearted element, it is watchable. John Wayne brings his charming as the personable undercover cowboy trying to track down the criminal and there is an entertaining banjo playing showmen routine. The stuntwork is good, particularly the cliff jumping and precarious horse riding. But, it is let down by uninspiring villains and a very predictable plot, and occasional stilted line delivery.

'Neath the Arizona Skies
(1934)

Mediocre desperadoes flick
An American Western; A story about a cowboy and guardian to a half-Native American, who helps the girl find her father so she can claim the oil-rich land she has been bequeathed. An outlaw and a criminal seize an opportunity to steal the oil lease. This is a routine actioner. The story is thinly plotted but also dense and clumsy with its far-fetched scenes of mistaken identity. Some of the horse chases and gunfights are dull. The scenes with the good-hearted ranch cook "Gabby" Hayes, and the child, Shirley Jane Ricketts, are a nice touch, and the high point is the climax with some good stunts on show. John Wayne is the one who shines and carries the film with his performance, but it's a very unremarkable film and let down by scenes of stilted line delivery caused by poor editing.

Murder, Inc.
(1960)

Uneven murder-for-hire drama with impressive performances
An American crime drama; A story set in the 1930s about a national crime syndicate and a mobster hiring a hit man to handle contract killings exclusively for him and the mob. A scared showbiz couple are intimidated by the hitman and become involved in his murderous acts. This routine thriller is based on a true story about Burton B. Turkus, an attorney and arbitrator best known for prosecuting members of the Brooklyn gang known as "Murder, Inc." It features a gritty portrayal of the primitivism of an underworld henchman, played by Peter Falk, and earning him an Academy Award nomination. The drama is gripping in parts but with two helmsmen it has an uneven feel. Scenes of powerful impact are offset by others which are melodramatic. The story has a semidocumentary feel which dampens the tension a little.

The Wild Geese
(1978)

A marginally effective combat film despite the ample bloodshed
A British-Swiss action adventure; A story about a group of ageing British mercenaries hired by a merchant banker to rescue a political prisoner in Africa. When the plan changes, the soldiers are left surrounded by hostile military forces. Richards Burton and Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger and an array of British supporting acting talent make this a wry, involving and suspenseful men-on-a-mission flick with good pacing and clarity. The main stars are not altogether convincing as mercenaries, and less convincing is a fragile looking Burton as leader of the troop. Its cool humour and flecks of parody at times act as a release valve for an average script. The enemy, running directly at machine guns in some scenes, causes the battle scenes to lack tension, but, the firepower and explosions are often exciting to watch. The photography and lighting leave a lot to be desired - underlit or dim for inside scenes, or distinctly grainy for scenes on location.

Gideon's Day
(1958)

Light vein 'day in the life' of a redoubtable London cop
A British crime drama; A story about a complicated day in the life of a Scotland Yard detective. This comedic, tongue-in-cheek, police detective procedural, is adapted from John Creasey's novel. It is brisk and humorous. Jack Hawkins plays his part proficiently as the reluctant hero, conveying well the life of a man with a seemingly endless flow of work and family life vexations. The many criminal acts give the film a disjointed feel, and it is dullened by melodrama in parts, but Hawkins holds our attention with his dry humour and charm, suggesting the annoyance and boredom of his job. The film is shot in glorious Technicolor and exhibits an extraordinary array of British character acting talent. John Ford succeeds in balancing the chaos and confusion of Scotland Yard and its cohorts with the wit and competence of a family man police inspector whose duty is never done.

Without Reservations
(1946)

Vacuous but deft Hollywood-on-Hollywood comedy
An American comedy; A story about a famous author who needs an actor to portray the lead character in the upcoming movie version of her worldwide bestseller. She begins to imagine a macho passenger as the lead, and attempts to stay in his company, but he doesn't like the book. This light-hearted romance has a lot of effervescence, and frivolity with its cute, cliched situations and amusing cameos. Past the brilliantly paced and bouyant first act it falters by being a bit too breezy and it resorts to begging for laughs along its thin plotline. That said, Claudette Colbert delivers an amusing performance and John Wayne as the Captain in her sights gives handsome support. There are some funny swipes at Hollywood studio system and all in all it is watchable and fun.

3 Godfathers
(1948)

Sentimental allegory of the Magi in cowboy form
An American western; A story set in Arizona about three outlaws on the run who find a dying woman in the desert who gives birth to a baby. The mother entrusts the care of the child to the three men. Loosely based on the fable of the three wise men, John Ford directed a film with gorgeously luminous photography of the Death Valley landscape. It combines strong performances from John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz, with Ward Bond in good support as the sheriff in close pursuit. It's an easy going corny story with its religious and allegorical connotations, but its moving musical score is useful glue for the camaraderie and tension.

They Were Expendable
(1945)

Great looking and authentic looking war actioner
An American war adventure; A story set in the Philippines about a commander of a motor torpedo boat squadron who fails to convince his navy officer that his agile but lightweight vessels should play a more active role in combat. Outbreak of war requires their commission, but for a dangerous mission. This film, based on William L. White's novel, was an excellent, and rich elegiac war film directed by John Ford, with gleaming photography. The film follows the squadron as they get a chance to shoot down Japanese planes and are assigned as message carriers between Bataan and Corregidor, until, at last, as ship hunters, and ultimately they face an almost hopeless chance of survival. The pacing is well measured and develops a good set of characters and sustains interest in what is a long film. It has a theme about victory is sometimes achieved at great cost and that sacrifices are required for the common goal. John Wayne gives a good performance as a fiery, independent and rebellious streaked Junior-Lieutenant, a temperament in sharp opposition to Robert Montgomery's Lieutenant a calm, rational, and efficient commander. There's also a well-conceived love story that never falls to melodrama or sentimentality, as a hospitalized Wayne meets a compassioante nurse played with feeling by the photogenic Donna Reed.

Sands of Iwo Jima
(1949)

Flag-waving actioner documenting a famous conflict
An American war adventure; A story about a tough, embittered US marine sergeant who is given a group of rebellious raw recruits that he has to turn into a fighting squad against the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. Although his training methods are often brutal, and he is unpopular, he prepares them for a harsher battle than they expect. Nominated for four Academy Awards, this re-enactment of the Battle of Iwo Jima is a straightforward, low-budget war flick that is eminently watchable but essentially a gung-ho war story filled with clichés and stock characters. But, it had a certain passion that was both entertaining and inspiring. The Iwo Jima battle scenes with their near and middle distance shots of action were spectacular. It features cameos from the real G.I.'s who were involved in combat. Actual battle footage is interspersed throughout the film which lends an authenticity to the piece without interrupting pace or narrative flow. John Wayne is well cast as the relentless disciplinarian with a rigid code of ethics, and who is cool under pressure. His conflict with John Agar provides some good tension.

Last Holiday
(1950)

Familiar and modest, but a poignant black comedy
A British drama-comedy; A story about a man who is advised by his doctor he has a terminal disease and only weeks to live. It prompts him to think that he's been missing out on the finer things in life. This is a slightly structured, dark-toned and droll ensemble film with a fine cast of English supporting character actors. Alec Guinness's moody salesman draws in characters of all sorts, especially of English gentility and civility, which yield some good humour. He handles the change to romantic, confident and carefree from meek and friendless through a stoicism, and it is interesting to see different situations unfold through that guardedness. It is a moving and delicately handled story with a theme about rebirth and regret.

Operation Pacific
(1951)

At sea impressive, ashore grossly sentimental
An American war comedy; A story about a submarine commander who's obsessed with fighting the enemy and reconciling with ex-wife, and embarks on a dangerous mission against the Japanese fleet. While this has a nationalistic, patriotic, sentimental tone, it is very watchable and based on incidents on USS Growler and issues with torpedo launches during that war period. It's a bit short on action but the suspense and pacing is good and the direction is efficient. John Wayne delivers handsomely as the square-jawed, iron-man, ship-shape mariner.

Big Jim McLain
(1952)

Hysterical propaganda spy yarn
An American political thriller; A story about two U.S. federal agents who are assigned the task of breaking up a ring of Communist Party troublemakers in Hawaii. This film has a propaganda tone, dealing with a subject matter such as House Un-American Activities Committee investigations (The HUAC was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties), a major news item in late 1940s America. The script is blatant in portraying communists as inadequate, pseudo-intellectuals, error prone gangsters, and agents of the Kremlin and declares that incidents in the film were based on the files of the HUAC Committee, without questioning its power to jail people for contempt of court, or its damaging effects on the careers of many artists it summoned. This melodramatic movie uses comic relief as well as mystery and a love story set against a travelogue of locations in Hawaii. Its subject matter was timely but crude, failing to be even-handed in its telling of a fictionalized spy story. Its depictions of anti-communists blurred the line of intent between serious documentary-drama, and arousing and entertainment fact-based fiction. John Wayne gave his character potency but other characters are often wooden. The screenplay is inconsistent in story flow and the story thrust gets muddled as new characters are introducted. The dialogue snaps well to narrative, but Wayne's snarling attitude is misplaced and awkward, and overall the story is inaccurate in its hysterical attempts to educate the public.

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