richardchatten

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Reviews

Gisaengchung
(2019)

Crossing the Line
Much has been said about this amorally elegant black comedy as full of twists and reversals as 'Volpone', yet few observers have commented upon the remarkable use of music; including the unexpected use of two arias from Handl's 'Rondelina' which add yet another veneer to the frantic proceedings and adroitly compliments the mise en scene.

Wonderful Things
(1958)

"Hurry Little Fishes...!"
The opening title boasting "An Anna Neagle Production" serves as a warning rather than a declaration. Herbert Wilcox at his absolute worst; it's not even in colour.

If you're forced at gunpoint to watch this rubbish, look out for early cameos by Ronnie Barker and Liz Fraser.

Island of Terror
(1966)

"Look over there! Silicates!!"
A very long way after 'Quatermass', this was the second of three sci-fi quickies Terence Fisher made away from Hammer for a modest little outfit called Planet; set in Ireland, but obviously shot in bitingly cold weather in the countryside around Pinewood.

A competent cast give earnest performances in the face of stupid-looking monsters - described by Peter Cushing as "nasty little creatures" - that leave their victims looking like Dorian Gray's portrait in the 1945 movie, accidentally created in a lab trying to find a cure for cancer.

Edward Judd makes a truly shocking intervention at one point on behalf of Peter Cushing; and the film has a memorable sting in the tale.

The Chairman
(1969)

Operation Minotaur
Internationally famous molecular biologist Gregory Peck swaggers into a fanciful version of Cultural Revolution China (actually shot at Pinewood and in Wales and Taiwan) full of glamorous females, one of whom he endears himself to with the charming compliment "I read your paper on peptides. I thought it was brilliant - for a woman!"; after which he discusses realpolitik with Chairman Mao over a game of table tennis.

Energetically directed by J. Lee Thompson, this hokum plays like a pilot for a TV series, combining elements from 'Fantastic Voyage' and 'Escape from New York' with classy thespians in uniform Arthur Hill and Alan Dobie back at Mission Control and one of the Chinese inevitably played by Burt Kwouk.

Young Guns of Texas
(1962)

Youngsters Out West
A footnote in western film history due to the fresh-faced young cast - of whom Jim Mitcham looks most like his famous pa - bolstered by veteran Chill Wills.

A very conventional tale of pursuit and gunplay given visual interest by being shot almost entirely outdoors; despite the jaunty title it's actually a rather sombre affair.

Three Hours to Kill
(1954)

Marked Man
A taut little Columbia western produced by Jimmy Cagney's brother William reminiscent of 'Fury', 'High Noon' and Dana Andrews' own 'Ox-Bow Incident'. A strong female contingent includes a brunette Donna Reed, a red-haired Diane Foster and a blonde Carolyn Jones; while two of the dramatic highlights feature Whit Bissell at his most cowardly, first in his barber shop, and later when Andrews sneaks up on him and his co.conspirators (observed only by the audience) while discussing him in the local saloon.

The Strange World of Planet X
(1958)

"Insects? Mon Dieu no!"
As MacFarlane and Chibnall observed "The strangest world revealed here was that of British social life and gender relations", the biggest surprise the presence of the name of thirties ingenue Rene Ray in the credits as author of the original book and of Dandy Nichols in the cast; and the biggest mystery how they all kept straight faces in this frightfully British hybrid of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (with Martin Benson well cast as "the legendary character from outer space", which for it's finale throws in a few big bugs (one of them seen chomping on a soldier's face in a memorably gruesome close-up) which must have cost several pounds.

Bugles in the Afternoon
(1952)

A Man With a Past
Raymond Milland looks a bit too old and polished for the uniform of a cavalry sergeant, and it could have done with less of Dimitri Tiomkin's noisy score.

But the quirky framing employed in the prologue to this good-looking, action-packed Technicolor potboiler co.scripted by Geoffrey Homes (best known for his film noirs), which includes a bargain-basement reenactment of Little Big Horn, hints at the fanciful visuals of director Roy Rowland's very next film, 'The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T'.

And it's always nice to see Barton MacLane play a good guy for a change.

Tickle Me
(1965)

The Prairie Gigolo
I actually saw the trailer for this film as a kid and vividly recall "the goon with that horrible face" who turns the final third of this film into an episode of 'Scooby Doo' after a conventional first hour with Elvis bursting into song every few minutes. (Which makes Presley Fred, Jocelyn Lane Daphne and Jack Mullaney Shaggy; but sadly there's no Velma.)

The story behind the making of this film (so cheap they didn't even bother to write a new title song when they changed the name from 'Isle of Paradise' to the even more meaningless 'Tickle Me') is probably more interesting than anything that ended up on the screen; but it kept Allied Artists solvent and earned Elvis his only ever award for his film acting - a 1966 Golden Laurel Award for best male performance.

Writers Ellwood Ullman and Edward Bernds' background writing for The Three Stooges shows when the action transfers from a dude ranch to a haunted house with a western spoof along the way. 'B' picture belles Julie Adams and Merry Anders are largely wasted, Alyson Hayes is hardly in it; while Francine York's lines presumably ended up on the cutting room floor since she's visible throughout the film in crowd scenes, but not in the credits.

21 Days
(1940)

The Man in the Dock
Graham Greene here made an inauspicious entry into film writing converting a John Galsworthy story he himself considered "peculiarly unsuited to film adaptation" into "the worst and least successful of Korda's productions".

Olivier and Leigh, the gilded young lovers of the Old Vic, had yet to learn how to how to act before the cameras in this overwrought melodrama with a noisy score by John Greenwood which spent two years on the shelf before eventually slipping quietly into cinemas only after both leads had hit it big in Hollywood.

There are compensations, however, in the graceful work of it's Czech cameraman, some vivid shots of London as it looked in 1937, and above all a moving performance - twelfth in the cast list - by Hay Petrie, who Greene himself declared "enriches every picture in which he appears.

John Wesley
(1954)

Spreading the Gospel
Another sober Sunday school lecture at the behest of J. Arthur Rank (in co-operation with The Radio and Film Commission of the Methodist Church) from the director of 'The Great Mr Handel'.

Like the earlier film garnished with sumptuous colour photography, with plenty of familiar faces in wigs and an with an authoritative performance in the title role by Leonard Sachs, it passes the time engrossingly enough.

Mary Poppins
(1964)

Mary, Mary
Years ago a friend excitedly told me 'My Fair Lady' was being restored, and my immediate reaction was to think that the only worthwhile restoration would be one that replaced Audrey Hepburn with Julie Andrews.

But Shaw's loss was P. L. Travers' gain and Andrews was practically the only thing about this glossy, overlong travesty that never leaves the studio that Travers liked. (Although Disney did her the courtesy of giving her a credit as ''Consultant' it's unlikely that she got consulted much, and what she really thought of the end result is evident from the fact that she never authorised a sequel.) Another thing that Travers did like, however, was 'Feed the Birds'; which moved me to add another point to my rating.

The one moment in the entire film that captures the rather remote and mysterious Ms Poppins of the original book - and one of the few understated moments in the entire movie - is the first appearance of Mary seen from behind in long shot sitting on a cloud; but already the noisy music score signals what to expect.

The special effects now look primitive, but CGI will probably look even more dated in sixty years time; and at least the camera isn't constantly swaying about in steadicam the way it is today.

Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent has been much mocked, but the gusto with which he throws himself into the part amply compensates; and if you can buy dancing animated penguins, singing suffragettes (featuring rather earlier than they did historically since the film is set in 1910), mechanical robins and a talking umbrella, what's a silly accent between friends?

(P. S. Van Dyke as the bank president manages to look even older than he now does at 96; and this must be one of the very few films from the early sixties in which three of the four leads are still with us.)

The Queen of Spades
(1949)

A Tale of Old St Petersburg
As coldly elegant as Anton Walbrook in the lead. This was a troubled production on which Thorold Dickinson at just three days notice took over direction from screenwriter Rodney Ackland (whose footage remains in the film, notably the flashback sequence with Pauline Tennant as the young countess) and plagued with money problems; not that you'd know from the film that emerged.

Immaculately assembled and incisively acted by a large cast of familiar faces it both looks good thanks to the gothic photography by Otto Heller, and sounds good thanks to Georges Auric's rich score and eerie use of sound (notably the rustle of the Countess's cape).

Yet another jewel in an output by Dickinson short on quantity but long on quality which showed his time at The Film Society in the twenties had been well spent.

John Halifax
(1938)

Gentle John
A satisfactory breeze through Dinah Craik's socially concerned 1856 bestseller spanning the years 1870-1825.

The music accompanying the opening credits is familiar from George King's penny-dreadfuls with Tod Slaughter; but minus Slaughter himself, presumably because the unspeakable Lord Luxmore the elder wasn't flamboyant enough.

In his absence the lead goes to John Warwick, flanked by old-timer D. J. Williams and new boy Ralph Michael as Phineas; the film's biggest surprise being the novel casting of a pretty young Muriel Pavlov as the former as a child.

Creature from the Haunted Sea
(1961)

The Return of Edward Wain
Hardly a good film - but an enormously likeable one - this is the third of a trio of zany comedy-thrillers dashed off by Roger Corman's Filmgroup, made on a whim because he already had a cast and crew with him in Cuba (in the days when all those vintage cars in Havana were still new).

Featuring probably the daftest looking monster since 'The Giant Claw' (intentionally this time), future Oscar-winner Robert Towne in his second and final appearance as Edward Wain (who this time also narrates the film), foxy Betsy Jones-Moreland as a shady lady "perfectly adjusted to my life of crime" and a very noisy jazz score by Fred Katz; according to Corman financially the film "had a mild success...It should have been a big success or a big failure".

Danny Boy
(1941)

Men of the Pavements
Although Wilfrid Lawson (inevitably first seen pouring himself a drink) is top-billed as a cigar-chomping agent dressed like a bookie in loud checks and a fur collar, the lead actually goes to John Warwick in this remake by Oswald Mitchell of his own directorial debut of 1934 made by Butcher's at Ealing and updated to London during the Blitz.

It never leaves the studio but passes the time satisfactorily enough. An interesting cast includes a brunette Anne Todd as the boy's mother, and a sympathetic supporting role for David Farrar. (One notable period detail in the early scenes is a little mixed-race kid called 'Sambo'.)

Penny Paradise
(1938)

Easy Money
A studio-bound but quietly effective early film from the up-and-coming Carol Reed praised by the not easily impressed Rachel Low as "Surprisingly realistic in it's atmosphere and with the usual good acting". An eighteen year-old Betty Driver is appealing as Edmund Gwenn's daughter and Ethel Coleridge memorably dour as his ghastly Aunt Agnes.

Carry on Cabby
(1963)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cabbie
Made in the days when Cortenas were considered exotic; this is an unusual 'Carry On' in that the humour is gentler (Sid James - fresh from a TV series called 'Taxi' - isn't yet the coarse lecher he later specialised in) and the woman more nuanced, possibly because it started life as a non-'Carry On'.

Written under the title 'Call Me a Cab' by Morecombe & Wise's old writers Sid Green & Dick Hills, this was one of the last 'Carry On's in black & white, the last to feature Cyril Chamberlain, Esma Cannon, and the lovely Liz Fraser (unless you count the unspeakable 'Carry On Behind', which I don't), the first to feature Jim Dale and Amanda Barrie and be scored by Eric Rogers (and one of the very few without Kenneth Williams).

La vergine di Norimberga
(1963)

"The mind of man is ever at the service of evil!"
An early film by director Antonio Margheriti under his alias 'Anthony Dawson' with echoes of 'Bluebeard's Castle'; the tone of which after he's spent nearly seventy minutes prowling about a spooky castle in pursuit of heroine Rossana Podesta is summed up by the exchange "What is that!? It's only an instrument of torture".

Batwoman: Mad as a Hatter
(2021)
Episode 1, Season 3

"You Really Are the Monster They Say You Are!"
Although this premiere episode of Season Three is named for the Mad Hatter no one is madder than Alice - described as "a full-blown lunatic" - making a welcome return to continuing to pull the strings, even while currently incarcerated like Hannibal Lector.

Now that she's out and centre stage again and once more putting that "mind of a psychopath" to creative use watch out world!

Justice League
(2017)

"Have You Guys Seen What's Going On Outside...?"
A slight improvement on the dire 'Man of Steel' - but not much.

After a proper titles sequence - containing the declaration that it was a 'Cruel and Unusual Film' suggesting a dry wit lacking thereafter - it's the usual pompous and overlong mess with too many characters and too little plot.

Amy Adams is again wasted, ditto Amber Heard as Heba. (They still haven't licked getting CGI-generated superheroes to fly convincingly, since the latter's supposed to glide about as though through water, but so do all the others.)

Man of Steel
(2013)

The Krypton Factor
That it abruptly starts without bothering with a credits sequence enhances the feeling that you've wandered in in the middle of something; while the gravitas invested in banalities spouted by the cast like "What are you going to do when you're not saving the world?" makes me wish the makers of these films would lighten up and come to terms with the fact that they're making popular entertainment, not Greek tragedy (or as the title of this instalment suggests, Wagnarian opera).

There's a lot of unsubtle product placement, and Aimee Adams is wasted as Lois Lane. But Antje Traue makes a formidable, saturnine henchbabe as Faora-Ul; whose sneering observation that "The fact you possess a sense of morality - and we do not - gives us evolutionary advantage" to an American audience obviously marks her out as a wrong 'un.

Timberjack
(1955)

"What's a man want oil for when he's got timber?"
Vera Ralston in the Dietrich role gets to sing three songs, while Hoagy Carmichael has only one. But this Republic 'A' feature in Trucolor surrounds Mrs Yates with majestic treescapes, vintage locomotives and Sterling Hayden as her leading man flanked by a classy supporting cast; so you get your money's worth.

Red Line 7000
(1965)

"It's a helluva way to make a living...!"
"All the bubbles are gone", Laura Devon observes at one point; and Howard Hawks should really have quit when he was ahead with 'Rio Bravo', since his sixties films are a pretty sorry bunch.

Structurally and thematically 'Red Line 7000' bears many similarities to 'Only Angels Have Wings', but stock car racing hardly merits the heroic status it's accorded here, a bland young cast mouth banalities like "That's all you really care about, winning"; and James Caan and Marianna Hill are not - to put it mildly - Cary Grant and Jean Arthur.

The actual racing sequences are obviously intercut with studio shots of the ladies watching from the crowd, and there are some shockingly obvious soundstage exteriors.

This long, glossy, but disjointed production (which looks suspiciously as if a lot was left on the cutting room floor; but not enough) ends very abruptly; perhaps the most true to life feature of it.

The Gunfight at Dodge City
(1959)

"Well as far as I'm concerned that takes care of Tuesday's election!"
The use of the singular in the title is misleading as there's a gunfight every few minutes as Joel McCrea as Bat Masterson cleans up Dodge City.

Richard Anderson is cast against type as a gunfighter in black and Timothy Carey very much to type as the ugliest of the heavies (while an uncredited Kasey Rogers - fleetingly seen early on as a saloon gal named Molly - is unrecognisable without the glasses she wore as Guy's cheating spouse under her former name of 'Laura Elliot' in 'Strangers on a Train').

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