Film Reviews by Steve Mason

Welcome to Steve Mason's film reviews page. Steve Mason has written 234 reviews and rated 6555 films.

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Victim

Key Bogarde role.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

After Sapphire, Dearden and scriptwriter Janet Green again married social commentary to a murder story, this time to explore the illegality of homosexuality which was allowing the widespread blackmail of homosexual men. Victim pulls a lot of punches. The lawyer played by Dirk Bogarde who expedites the investigation into the death of a rent boy doesn't actually have sex with men. He is married, and resists the impulse. But he does make clear the desire is there in a passionate speech apparently written by Bogarde himself. But the level of candour was still a big leap forward. Credit to all the cast and crew in making this film when the stigma might have caused considerable harm to their careers. It was banned in the US. The main attraction of Victim for me is the poignant performance by Dirk Bogarde, really the gateway to his many great roles of the sixties, particularly with Joseph Losey.

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Carve Her Name with Pride

Special ops with a difference.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

The Special Operations film, and the design, organisation and execution of a dangerous, covert enterprise in a foreign country under occupation was one of the most robust and rewarding subgenres of the 1950s war film. There was usually a great deal of genre conformity in these films, from the tough sergeant major, the explosives boffin, the repressed emotions of the final briefing through to their brave death or unlikely escape. Carve Her Name with Pride is distinctive because it about the training and operation of a woman, Violette Szabo who worked with the resistance in France and was executed at Ravensbrück concentration camp 1945. It is a dignified and charismatic portrayal by Virginia McKenna and a worthy tribute. The ending when she is executed with Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe is powerful and deeply moving.

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Enchanted April

Irresistible.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

This version of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel (filmed badly in 1935) was originally made for the BBC but later given a cinema release by Miramax. Four women mostly suffering from disappointing marriages, the grey fustiness of London and English middle class life, and a lingering despair brought on by World War I, travel to the picturesque fishing village of Portofino in north western Italy. There, established in a castle rented to tourists, in the light and warmth of their surroundings, the society of local inhabitants and free from the restrictions of their usual lives, they begin to thrive and grow again.  So pure escapism. A vicarious fantasy. Yet such a beautiful one, which works like an opiate flooding our veins and then our hearts with sweet release. The light, the Italian locations, the beautiful performances, they all allow us a little of the peace and optimism that the ladies find within themselves, released by the Italian riviera. And in my 1991, that was glorious, charming and irresistible.

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Monty Python's Life of Brian

Their Best Work.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

A great stroke of luck for Monty Python was that they got the sets from Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 tv epic, Jesus of Nazareth which allowed this film to look a whole lot more authentic than Up Pompeii. Life of Brian is a series of sketches harnessed to the story of (an alternative) Christ. Its attraction is mainly twofold: it is an inspired and intelligent skewering of the characteristics of religious fundamentalism; and it is very funny. There is little characterisation save Graham Chapman's Brian, but there are some inspired performances, such as Michael Palin's Pontius Pilate, and John Cleese's Reg, leader of the Judean resistance. Brilliant comical scenes keep on coming, like the pessimistic, equivocal prophet, or the Roman soldier correcting the Latin of Brian's graffiti. I'm not usually an admirer of the work of Monty Python as a collective, but this is their absolute peak, and the hyperbolic reaction to the film's release (the BBC discussion between Palin, Cleese and Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark was lamentably witless on the part of the offended Catholics) indicated that a national, or global conversation was long overdue.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Odette

Classic Special Op Film.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

The work of married team Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox hasn't aged all that well, but this is an unexpected exception, an admirably realistic biopic of Odette Sansom, British spy, recipient of the George Cross and survivor of Ravensbrück concentration camp. It follows the standard special operations layout, but surprisingly the true events are hardly embellished, partly due to the influence of Odette herself. This means that the plot may feel a little undeveloped, but the film leaves a surprising impression of vérité. This is the role of Neagle's life, and she gives it a great shot, given her limitations, and Trevor Howard is as ever calm and understated and stiff of lip as the British leader of liaison with the Maquis who Odette would marry (and divorce) after the war. Tremendously moving and humbling of course, given the subject matter.

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Quadrophenia

Probably won't work if you don't like the album, but...

(Edit) 29/02/2020

Cinematic version of The Who's classic concept album plays like a return to the kitchen sink values of the early sixties (which is when the action is set). Quadrophenia elects for an unglamorous presentation of working class locations, distant from most of the usual chic of the decade; though the teenage mods do long for the elegant materialism that is hoarded elsewhere, and the status that will always be out of reach. The story, lifted from the impressionistic lyrics of the rock opera is mostly reportage; the amphetamines, the mod sound, the beach fights and the knee tremblers. But the film fuses with the soundtrack brilliantly, offering a profound empathy for adolescent yearning. This stems from Phil Daniel's authentic performance, and from Pete Townshend's songwriting, particularly the ethereal, spiritual ache of I'm One and Love Reign O'er Me. One of the great films about the brief tragic metamorphosis that happens between being a teenager, and being a wage slave.

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An Inspector Calls

Social realism meets the ghost story.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

First film version of JB Priestley's classic socialist play about the thoughtlessly cruel exploitation and degradation of a working class girl. In his greatest performance, Alastair Sim plays a police inspector who visits the home of a factory owner, not so much to investigate, but to identify the guilt of each member of family in the suicide of a young woman who crossed all their lives. Rather thrillingly, she may have been a composite person comprising many of her class, making her a symbolic victim. The film version develops the supernatural element of the play, making it very spooky indeed. The newly scripted flashbacks work very well, but otherwise the film takes place in a single room, with a great deal of talk, which doesn't prove to be problematic. A fine achievement for Hamilton, best known for his Bond films. Brilliant, heartstopping ending too.

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Travels with My Aunt

Underrated Greene comedy.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

The Graham Greene source novel was a joyful, optimistic affirmation of life and the film gloriously conveys those emotions on to the screen. At his mother's funeral, a naive, mundane middle aged bank manager Henry Pulling (Alec McCowen) meets for the first time the capricious Aunt Augusta (Maggie Smith) who initiates him into an adventure incorporating her many, varied and usually eccentric or criminal associates and friends scattered across the more glamorous cities of Europe. Henry is shaken out of his complacency and led to the unsurprising conclusion that it is the impulsive and resourceful Agatha who is his real mother, and not the conservative woman who brought him up. And he begins to discover the Agatha dormant within. This is a feelgood experience, set in beautiful locations and gorgeously acted by its eclectic cast, particularly Smith and McCowen. It's surprising to me that this film has such a poor reputation. It feels like mainlining nirvana. Unsentimental optimism is a rare commodity on screen and this picaresque, secular pilgrimage delivers its surge of serotonin with a lot of style and wit.

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Accident

Another Losey-Bogarde classic.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

Cerebral drama written by Harold Pinter with the implicit menace, allusive meaning and expressive silences that we expect from the playwright. It is a slow moving story with a strong evocation of a rural summer, and of the aloof academia that gathers around a pair of ascendant Oxford scholars. A lot of the lifting is done by the lead actors, Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker, who are both superb, and the latter, a revelation. There is an art to making very psychological films so compelling, which might easily be portentous and pretentious. This kind of film making was more often found at this time in France and Italy (Rohmer, Antonioni) but Losey proves himself comfortably equal to the task. It is a taut, haunting and atmospheric film by the best director in sixties UK cinema.

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The Way to the Stars

Best wartime RAF film.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

Even before the fighting was over Britain began to reflect nostalgically and mythologise World War II. Which Anthony Asquith and tail gunner and scriptwriter Terence Rattigan did here for the RAF from 1939-1944. The action starts looking backwards, the camera seeking out memories from the unmaintained airfield, the traces left behind by the flyers and mechanics. Then we're back to the Battle of Britain, the adrenaline rush of the conflict, the sadness of the pilots who didn't return, hidden by the survivors behind a stiff smile and an aphorism. Like Flight Lieutenant Michael Redgrave, mourned by his widow, in a touching performance by Rosamund John. Much of the film takes place in the local hotel, where the pilots unwind, dominated by resident pub bore Stanley Holloway. In 1942 the Americans arrive and John Mills and Basil Radford are joined by Douglass Montgomery and Bonar Colleano and much cultural misunderstanding ensues. The film stays a long way from the action. We just see the eyes from the ground raised skywards and counting the planes coming in. It's a powerfully moving film of stoicism and sacrifice and try getting through it without shedding a few tears.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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The Servant

Losey and Bogarde's best film.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

Class paranoia  as Dirk Bogarde's obsequious, cockney valet turns the table on James Fox's effete toff in a schematic confrontation which concludes with Bogarde ruling the house and Fox wearing the pinny. This is probably Bogarde's greatest performance, a brilliant vehicle for Harold Pinter's sardonic, oblique dialogue. He is dangerous, hypnotic, watchful, and exactly as exploitative, degenerate and entitled as the aristocrat he seeks to dominate. And Bogarde is well on top of the sexual ambiguities. The film is an intellectual game played out by Losey within a single location or combat zone, the aristocrat's house (which the Servant proceeds to decorate to his own taste in darker colours). It is strikingly photographed within that space by Douglas Slocombe, with musical shading added by Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. One of the key UK film of the sixties.

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A Taste of Honey

New Wave Classic.

(Edit) 29/02/2020

I think A Taste of Honey is easily Tony Richardson's best film. It was shot around Salford, and the location work feels authentic, and Rita Tushingham scores with an artless portrayal of a sixteen year old girl unexpectedly faced with pregnancy and motherhood. But I don't think of this film as part of the working class cycle that characterised the British new wave. Those characters are usually taking advantage of a trickle down of opportunity and prosperity, and imparting a new, unfamiliar vernacular. A Taste of Honey is about people that economic upturns never reach, the poor and the uneducated, rather than being a new idea about the proletariat. It has more in common with the films of the depression, like Love on the Dole (1941) though with a lighter touch, greater humour and free from ideology. What I most like about the film, is the poetry in Shelagh Delaney's lines that describe her protagonist's confusion and fear: it's not the darkness outside that scares me... It is a remarkable script from Delaney, written when she was only nineteen and it is her work that makes the film so special.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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10 Rillington Place

A Sleeper.

(Edit) 28/02/2020

When this film was released, and when the book by Ludovic Kennedy this was based on was published, it was received as a condemnation of the death penalty inspired by Timothy Evans (superbly played by John Hurt) being wrongly hanged for the murder of his wife. That was my initial response to the film. Many years later I found the foul depravity, the dismal viciousness of John Christie, as portrayed in Richard Attenborough's astonishing performance had swallowed the film whole. His oppressive hypnotic psychosis was nearly all I could see. Fleischer created an awful world for Christie to operate in, a phlegmy, yellowy world in which this spider caught, murdered and raped his ignorant, innocent victims. Fleischer seems to indict the poverty and lack of education that allowed Christie to thrive in the darkness. A stunning, repulsive performance by Attenborough, and a film that seems to have gained in status as the years have passed.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Sapphire

Crime film plus.

(Edit) 27/02/2020

Hard to believe a film critiquing the racism in 1950s London could hit so relatively few bum notes when viewed from 2020. Dearden and scriptwriter Janet Green teamed up for a pair of films about prejudice and social injustice in this period (Victim, 1961). Sapphire is a black woman who has been 'passing for white' in a London where being black imposes so many impediments, which this film goes on to expose. When she is found dead on Hampstead Heath, a traditional police procedural drama is set in motion, with racial hatred the likely motive for the killing. The cast is superb, especially Nigel Patrick as the liberal police inspector, Earl Cameron as a GP and the victim's more obviously black brother, and the always excellent Yvonne Mitchell as a lonely mother consumed by anger and resentment. The camera work is fluid and dynamic and for a message film, it is hugely entertaining. Anyone determined to look for dated attitudes to race will inevitably find them. But the heart of this film is huge compassion for the bigotry and poverty suffered by so many of the Windrush generation on arriving in the UK.

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Scum

The Better Version.

(Edit) 27/02/2020

Clarke earned a reputation for making violent and uncompromising dramas for the BBC, and when his Play for Today version of this story was shelved by the broadcaster, he and writer Roy Minton made an even more brutal cinema version. Scum is the best prison drama the UK (probably any country) has ever made, and that includes the many POW films. It is a sensational exposure of the British borstals of that period, soon to be abolished. The story centres around two offenders' fight for the supremacy of their part of the system, to be the 'daddy'. A battle ultimately won by Ray Winstone's Carlin. These prisons socialise the inmates to conform with the prevailing culture, but the values they learn to adhere to, are utterly insane. No one survives. The institution and the sentences are incidental to the real savagery of the experience; these boys brutalise each other. The rape and subsequent suicide of one of the characters is particularly harrowing. This is a film where the lack of budget actually enhances the look of the drama. All is grim, and hostile, and malign. 

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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