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BBC Play of the Month: Design for Living
Episode 6, Season 14

Witty, enjoyable, fun.
As the only comment on this excellent production seems to find fault with Rula Lenska's resemblance to Joan Collins (??) and Loretta Young (??), that the men aren't more hunky and steamy, and the fact that the dialogue is talky, I feel compelled to leave MY two bits' worth.

Talk is what we expect from Noel Coward. Reams of it. Clever, witty, bizarre, offbeat, and yes, not what one would expect of people in real life. Since when does drama have to follow normal speech? If such were the case, then anyone with a tape recorder could become a playwright.

Rula Lenska is divine, preposterous and hilarious. I'd only seen her on tabloid covers taken from Celebrity Big Brother, alas, and to see this televised play was most illuminating. Her two gentlemen are, yes, a little limp by today's Hollywood standards, but a lot more clever. It is easy to see why this trio of misplaced bohemians must always be together. They feed off one another, and are more alive when all three are in the room together. The actors convey this admirably. The costumes, hair and so on are beautiful, giving the sparkling dialogue a perfect setting.

Bravos all round. If something half this good were produced today, the critics would be ecstatic.

Honeymoon in Bali

Loved the film, couldn't stand the kid
What an enjoyable piece of fluff. Though I'd say it was a bit more than a piece of fluff, really, as there is subtlety galore, and philosophy, and irreverence and some macabre/screwball humour when the love rival for Fred MacMurray says in an offhand way that she'd attempted suicide but then got married, but then found it hard to be sad when her husband was killed playing polo... That kind of humour would raise eyebrows even today! Alan Jones sings his manly heart out while wearing a pencil moustache, and Madeleine Carroll says some very clever and deep things about the nature of female independence. You can tell that the actress really thought these lines were quite wise and put a lot of feeling into them, even though the film is at pains to prove the opposite view. Likewise subtle is the fact that MacMurray is a bit of a cad, not a straightforward hero. I actually hated him for a good few minutes. The small roles are played with great skill and elan, particularly the fortune teller with her blithe, witty delivery and of course Window-cleaner philosopher Akim Tamiroff, whom I ended up applauding out loud for his sheer verve, and the comedy and character he packs into each gesture. The fly in the ointment, to this cow-poke anyway, is the truly cringeworthy little girl. Ugh! You can just see her pushy mother urging her on to become the next Shirley Temple. Sorry dear, that requires talent, not just a shrill voice and a pudgy face.

The Stork Club

Aw come on guys! It's fun, FUN!
I cannot believe how mean-spirited so many of the comments are on this delightful piece of froth. It is a Rom-Com, a fun way for a war-weary people to loosen up and forget about their troubles. Betty Hutton does yell. And how. Her sense of rhythm, quick gestures and dance moves are extremely well-honed, and she nails these songs with a precision and joie-de-vivre that is a lesson to anyone in show business. The story is implausible. Good! That's what makes it so fun and such good escapist value. Look at Rom-Coms today and they're not that much more plausible... The set design is fabulous, the gowns are gorgeous, the girls vivacious, and the band excellent. The songs aren't amongst the forty best tunes of the century, but they're memorable enough that I'm humming one of them right now. Can't say fairer than that.

Escape to Athena

Come on guys; it was pretty enjoyable!!
This film came free with today's paper, so perhaps I'm in an indulgent frame of mind. However, much as I admire the wit shown by IMDb members in panning this film, I have to disagree with them. Escape to Athena is a very enjoyable romp indeed, with all sorts of excellent stylistic touches, some really gratifying explosions, humour that is a trifle dated but not so bad if you lean back and accept it, and an interesting plot. I don't know why people require a movie to go all the way in one direction, ie be edge-of-the-seat suspense, or cataclysmic tragedy, or roll-in-the-aisles hilarious, or weepie romantic etc. etc. Why can't it be a bit of everything? I think we're far too used to the extremes that have become fashionable of late. Forget Daniel Day-Lewis bursting a vein, if just for one evening. You'll feel better for it. However, Telly really can't dance. That I must agree with.

Let the People Sing

idealism we'd do well to adopt
I was pleasantly surprised to see this film; I'm a Priestly fan and this is one of his lesser-known novels. For such a sprawling story with so many interweaving elements, and considering that there is no central character in the cinematic sense, it's a good adaptation, and several good long chunks of dialogue manage to make their way straight from the pages of the book to the screen. Alastair Sim is excellent as the Professor, fleshing out the character beautifully and giving his wise speeches wonderful depth and humour. Edward Rigby is exactly as I imagined Timmy Tiverton, though without his terribly sad and pathetic back-story, provided at some length in the novel, he is less of a pivotal character and more of a commentator. As in the book, it is Sir George Denberry-Baxter who steals the thing, a gift of a role and appreciated as such by the great Fred Emney. He's just what we want our aged aristocrats to be: drunken, anarchic, artistic, irascible, eccentric and barmy. The central character really is the cause: fighting against corporations and the general apathy of a people controlled by big business and passive entertainment. If only we had films like this now, urging people to get up and get involved, gather in our local town halls and make our own entertainment, using their own talents and brains and energies.

Agatha Christie's Marple: The Body in the Library
Episode 1, Season 1

I jolly well liked it!
I can't believe how many negative comments I see here! I have read the books and am a fan of Agatha Christie. I also have seen Hickson, Lansbury and Rutherford embody the dotty old lady with the razor-sharp brain. But there is room for McEwan, and to my mind there is NEED for her. Miss Marple is a wonderful creation, but after a while the premise, and the endless little gossipy asides and prim teacosy-ness wear a bit on one. That is why this clever re-thinking is so very welcome. Not only the clever move to the fifties, with its very different, more edgy world, but the idea that Marple is not so shockable. Take the idea that this is an old lady who has more to her than meets the eye, and expand on it. Lesbians, extra-marital sex and so forth shouldn't shock her; she solves murders! Plenty have commented that there is too much over-acting. But it's just that wonderful high-camp quality, the lurid and fun technicolour element shown on the original paperback cover art that's being celebrated here. And for those who complain of Miss Marple's shabby cottage, the 1950s in Britain were lean years. This is Marple with a difference, and I think it's a very welcome difference, and something to be revelled in. Simon Callow's arch pompousness is delicious! Joanna Lumley's eyebrow-raising and hooty laugh is hilarious! And McEwan is subtle, detailed and above all, fun. And why not? And get those frocks!

The Gunfight at Dodge City

Nice and moody
I enjoyed this. It provides everything one expects from a Western: good plot, revenge, love, conflict between law and personal conscience, plenty of gun-play, and mood. And a few excellent quotes. Try: "The distance between here and that street is the distance between a rabbit and a man." The beginning is refreshing too. Before the title and opening credits, a world-weary McCrea is telling a simple teenage boy who admires his prowess with a gun what it really is like. How scared one is, how little it has to do with heroics, and how awfully wretched one feels afterwards. In this film, the gunfights are fast, and mostly in the dark. That's probably more accurate than so many more overblown sequences in other films. The performances on everyone's part, even the baddies', are in many ways unexpectedly subtle. Take Regan, the bad Sheriff. Look at his strange, tormented eyes. None of it's overplayed. If it's raining outside, get out the popcorn and curl up with this.

The Moon and Sixpence

Faithful and effective adaptation of the novel
While the beginning of this film is a bit slow, with a few touches of humour sitting a bit uncomfortably, soon we are treated to a simple but effective treatment of this extraordinary story. As the Gauguin-like painter Charles Strickland, Sanders actually does a bit more than play his 'typical cad', but relishes his character's poking fun at a hypocritical society, and shows real passion in describing to the Maugham-like figure exactly WHY he leaves his ordinary London existence. We absolutely believe him when he insists "I HAVE to paint". Wisely, the director doesn't let us see any of Strickland's canvases, and we are only limited by our own imaginations as to how powerful they must be. The only exception comes at the end, and without spoiling anything, I believe that it's handled extremely well. Other performances are a delight, particularly in the entertaining vignettes of turn-of-the-century Tahitian life.

Columbo: Étude in Black
Episode 1, Season 2

Just a few nerdy comments...
My first 'Columbo'. Rather enjoyed it. Great format, and Peter Falk's character extremely good...wonderfully quirky, he can take his place next to Poirot, Miss Marple, and also the likes of Marlowe and Rick Diamond. I can see why this series has such a following.

As a professional musician, I HAVE to say a few things. First of all, a conductor who merely produces these pedestrian performances of the most basic examples of the repertoire (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Strauss Waltzes, Beethoven...) is never going to have a house like that or fame like that or cars like that, much less be called a genius. And the conducting that the actor does is so bad as to be laughable. No orchestra would take him seriously.

There are several little things too, such as his rehearsal of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (why rehearse it when they've just performed it for TV? Any orchestral musician would be able to play it in his or her sleep anyway...). His instructions to the ensemble are downright nonsensical, and when Columbo asks Blythe Danner what 'quasi fantasia' means, she says it's 'Latin'. It's Italian, as are the vast majority of musical instructions.

And finally, no two great musicians would EVER have the following interchange: "Play something." "What should I play?" "Chopin". Music is their job and passion, they know it well. Something far more specific would be asked for, and offered!

I know. I should get out more...


Enjoyable pioneer saga
I admit to not having read the book (but will now go to to find it!) or seen the earlier film, but find it interesting to compare this enjoyable movie with 'Giant'(Stevens, 1956), which incidentally also had Mercedes McCambridge in it, also concerned an essentially ill-matched couple, prejudice, mixed-race marriage, early oil-barons, and also takes in a number of years in which we see the characters grow older.

Unlike the other reviewers here, I did NOT find Maria Schell's accent annoying in the least. She makes a wonderfully believable pioneer (note: the accent is genuine, which also sets her apart from many other Hollywood 'foreigners') and she has a pleasingly natural acting style. She shines beautifully when she is interacting with other women, be it the wildcat and part-time prostitute Anne Baxter in one of the finest scenes of the film (smouldering and feisty but underused I think) or the earthy and magnificent McCambridge, whose subtle but hilarious Southern accent is expertly modulated and a joy to the ear. So many scenes between women in Westerns of this time are somewhat flat and stagey, but I think they're superb here and set this film apart.

Glenn Ford is good, and although the film rather tries to do too much (as does Giant, in my opinion), it's really a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon or even a hot afternoon. Plenty happens along the way and it has something to say.

The Destructors

Pretty lousy all right...
I'd give this a 1 out of 10, but because the colour is good, nothing seems out of focus, big buildings are effectively set alight, I can't do that, in all fairness. Nonetheless, God only knows how any self-respecting filmmaker could look at the James Bond movies, think "I'd like a piece of that action" and then make this piece of tepid crapola. Not only is it tepid, but it's embarrassingly, self-consciously smug and seems to think it's funny. The women are stupid, with vague motivations; our leathery-faced, Marlboro-voiced all-American hero is supposed to be a real lady-killer and action man; and the genre is classified as Sci-Fi. Sorry folks, but one top-secret weapon made with Ruby crystals does not Science Fiction make. (apologies for overuse of the hyphen but I can't help myself) Richard Egan made a convincing weary gunslinger in Tension at Table Rock, but here, where wit and charm is required, he's left floundering. Furthermore, he looks as if he wouldn't hustle if his arse were on fire. To pull of that stunt in this type of film, you have to be a little bit cool, and more than a little bit suave. He doesn't have it I'm afraid. Sean Connery he ain't. Heck, Dean Martin he ain't! Can you believe it: they've even given him a wifey type who throws plastic vases at the door in a limp-wristed manner because he'll be late for dinner while saving the free world from the Red Menace. That could, of course, be funny. But here it most emphatically is not.

Siege of the Saxons

Not as bad as all that...
I finished watching this movie about, oh, five minutes ago, and went straight to IMDb to read more about it, and was rather surprised to see that the only two members who've left comments thoroughly trash it. It's actually a highly satisfactory way to spend a rainy afternoon, what with an excellent cast (no, they're not hammy. If you want hammy there are plenty of other films to oblige you), an accomplished and effective score with lots of brass, and well choreographed fight sequences which give a good idea of how heavy those Anglo-Saxon weapons were. Cinematography is also pretty good, with castles that look the way we'd expect them to look. And the costumes are evocative without looking too fancy-dress (consider that this is 1963!). Pacing is good, and although it won't be in anyone's top twenty films, it does deliver a good time. Laurie is excellent as Merlin, mystical and frail with ancient hollow eyes.

Katharina, die Letzte

Delightful! Even without subtitles!
I was holed up in a hotel room in Austria on a rainy day between rehearsals for an opera I was in, and turned on the TV, which was usually hopeless; bad MTV and dubbed American Sitcoms. But this movie had just started, and I was hooked for the duration. Though I understood maybe one in five words at the most, sometimes far less, I was able to follow this delightful Cinderella story from beginning to end. Franciska Gaal is really hilariously funny and over-the-top as the kitchen maid Katharina, who is so poor she has to wear chunks of wood for shoes, and who is taken out on dates by a rich and handsome man-about-town dressed up as his own chauffeur in order to get into the house Kathariana works in, and where his fiancée lives, guarded by her overprotective father. Naturally Hans slowly grows to love Katharina in spite of himself, and soon she is no longer just a means to an end. Gaal exudes charm in bucketloads, even with her high voice and pigtails that seem to be held out by wires. She sings beautifully too. There are many touching moments in this, and much more subtlety than the plot may suggest. Speaking of singing, the Comedian Harmonists are featured in a nightclub scene, a good bit of priceless footage of this inimitable group. Both they, and Gaal, had their careers ruined by the Nazis, and this is yet another record of a lost world. Invaluable. I hope it becomes widely available soon, along with Gaal's other films, perhaps with some subtitles for those like me!

The Ghoul

Excellent, underrated.
I disagree wholeheartedly with those who have given this film a bad review. The acting is superb, particularly Ralph Richardson as the 'Vicar', and the character actors, and of course Boris himself. Beautifully shot with wonderful props and set (I'd love to know which house they used!) it could put many a famous cinematic Haunted House to shame! The plot is reasonably clever and well-paced --nobody wants anything too complex in this atmospheric genre-- and the romantic subplot is suitably unsentimental and unobtrusive. Especially wonderful is the moment when the second woman, who had been swooning ridiculously in front of the man who calls himself a Sheik and generally acting silly, turns suddenly brave and holds the baddies at bay with the words (remember this is 1933!) "I don't THINK so!"

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