Film Reviews by NC

Welcome to NC's film reviews page. NC has written 85 reviews and rated 102 films.

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Wanted for Murder

The Title Isn't Kidding.

(Edit) 16/05/2019

This feels like one of those pretty average B films churned out by the likes of Butcher's, with an extra forty minutes tacked on, improving it not a stitch. There is no discernible departure from the routine serial killer/police investigation format; the script, even with Rodney Ackland involved, is no better than competent, and often not even that; and the direction and the production plays safe by enclosing the enterprise in a conventional straightjacket. Good acting may have raised it a level or two, but the mostly second division stars don't seem to try very hard. Before the climax, Eric Portman is allowed to show his 'Hyde' character once only, in a good scene at Madame Tussauds. For the rest of the time he gives a fair impression of a monolith. Dulcie Gray and Derek Farr are hardly first choices if you want charisma in your leads. Stanley Holloway is there presumably to add a light touch. Trouble is he's as amusing as mumps. Only Roland Culver, as the police Inspector, looks assured. The ending isn't worth sitting through the rest of the film for.

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The Boy Who Stole a Million

Steals Time As Well.

(Edit) 19/05/2019

Anybody familiar with the Children's Film Foundation (CFF) productions of the '50's and '60's may think themselves treading over old ground. Boy 'borrows' money from the bank he works at as a messenger, and finds himself pursued not only by the police force, but by the town's heavies. Many of the CFF films worked because at just an hour in length they seldom outstayed their welcome. 'The Boy Who Stole A Million' could certainly have benefitted from being a judicial twenty minutes shorter. There are only so many times one can see crowds of police and crooks so dim they can hardly stand crashing and falling over one another, while the boy squeezes himself out of the melee and dodges away.

There is a perfunctory spotlight on the rich/poor divide. Only the rich can borrow money from the bank because they have collateral. The poor, the ones who NEED to borrow money, can't. There is a short scene at a rubbish dump, with scavengers picking at what others have thrown away. The boy should be at school, rather than having to work for money. But all that gets lost as the chase overshadows all.

One of those films you'll probably wish you hadn't wasted your time on, but compensations include a small army of familiar faces, the location of the old part of Valencia - and Pepe the dog.

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Street Corner

'Blue Lamp' With A Difference.

(Edit) 23/05/2019

Pretty good police procedural, for the most part, with the bonus novelty (for its time) of concentrating on the work of policewomen.

There are three separate stories, two of which (a child neglect case, and one involving an army deserter) are fairly peripheral. The main focus is on Peggy Cummins, with a wild Irish accent, getting further and further embroiled in a gang of thieves, led by a cocksure Terence Morgan.

It's all done impeccably well by the husband and wife Boxes, with a who's who of reliable faces turning up, including miniature gems from Thora Hird and Dora Bryan. Dialogue is tight, with slippages into the patronising occurring only now and again. All in all, despite there being nothing outstanding here, it's still a good way to pass an undemanding ninety minutes.

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Billy Liar

If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride.

(Edit) 13/05/2019

The '60's may have swung for some, but for many others it was a time of being sold down the river by a world which left them as flotsam. As wrecking-balls demolished the old to make way for those who could turn daydreams into reality, the rest were left with daydreams only, stuck in a dead-end job, (literally, in Billy's case, as an undertaker's clerk), and nothing to look forward to but marriage and a family life (the personal experience of which could hardly have made him ebullient at the thought).

'Billy Liar' begins with that long-running sop for the masses, 'Housewives Choice'. A request read out on the radio could be a highlight of a life. If not that, then being in a crowd to watch a talentless comedian cut the ribbon to open another soulless supermarket. No wonder Billy retreats into fantasies and lies. When these fantasies and lies become more important than to him than his family and his job, difficulties and confrontations inevitably ensue. For Billy is not only a victim, but also an exploiter: passing on the hurt to Barbara and Rita, engaged to both, (and just one engagement ring), far from in love with either, and feeling something only for Liz, another free spirit, but someone with the courage to act in deeds, not just in thought. Crises come, as we know they must, in both home and employment, and Billy has one chance to stop dreaming and start doing...

Billy's parents were perhaps the last generation who thought they should be grateful for what little they have, and a blazing row between Billy and his father has to do with how 'grateful' one should be. The Angry Young Men showed how thankful they were for the high-rise flats, the never-never, and love on the cheap.

Tom Courtenay made a name for himself in 'Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' the year before (1962). 'Billy Liar' was to cement him as one of the bright young talents of the time. It's a virtually flawless performance. It helps, of course, when you have the likes of Leonard Rossiter, Julie Christie, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne, Helen Fraser and Rodney Bewes around.

Rita, one of his let-down fiancees, furiously calls him a 'nobody', and it's true. The world has always and ever will be full of nobodies dreaming of being somebodies, which is why 'Billy Liar' will always be relevant.

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Paul Temple Returns

By Jove, This Is Balderdash.

(Edit) 09/05/2019

"Paul, Darling, why are all these people getting bumped off when we happen to be handily nearby? And why do they breathe clues into your ear with their last gasp? Why haven't they squealed what they know to the police? And Paul, Darling, why are all these nice British actors dressed up as beastly foreigners? Anybody might think we tolerated them in this great country. As servants we can, I suppose, make wizard jokes about them, but they might get other ideas. Isn't it enough we look after them so well in their own country?" "Steve, Darling, can't you see it's because the writing and directing are rot?" "Well, Paul, Darling, when you've solved the case, let's go and buy that diamond ring, fresh from the mines of South Africa. I'll go and get my leopard skin coat. Isn't it so spiffing to be civilised?"

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Thirst

Thirsty For Explanations.

(Edit) 05/05/2019

It's as if Tawfik Abu Wael has seen all those great films coming out of the Middle East; decided to make one himself - and failed. He's taken the 'less is more' rule to the extreme of leaving out swathes of information, so there are great chunks of 'Atash' which just make no sense. Why has Abu Shukri become the devil of a patriarch? Why does he call what looks like an abandoned military outpost 'my land'? (Unless he's referring to Palestine itself as 'our land' - but that's sheer guesswork as little else in the film broaches the Arab/Israeli situation.) How the heck has he managed to get away with his illicit charcoal business for TEN YEARS - illegally felling trees, fires which can be seen for miles around, the selling of the charcoal - to whom? Sometime in the past there has apparently been an assault of some kind on his eldest daughter (how seriously we are not told), and the gossip and the shame is the reason for him driving his family to such a deathly place. There are infuriating hints that the father himself is guilty of something he should be ashamed of, but again this is guesswork. There are so many more incidents which left me nonplussed that in the end I gave up trying. I started looking at the clock a good half-hour before it finished.

Abu Shukri clearly hasn't an atom of decency in him, so when sympathy for the main protagonist goes out of the window then the viewer has to fall back on the secondary characters. These are presented as cowering figures with no individuality, so when the ridiculous ending arrives, when one of them is supposed to have transformed overnight, it doesn't even begin to work. A pretty awful effort.

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Rome, Open City

Death In Rome.

(Edit) 30/04/2019

Forgive the quality of the print. Much of it was pieced together from scraps of stock left over from the German and American forces, giving some idea of the circumstances Rossellini worked under in making this film. The bombed-out buildings, the streets, the very clothes the people stood up in, were as authentic as you can get. Filmed in 1945, immediately after the German occupation, it is filled with all the vitriol you may expect, which goes a long way to forgiving the total black/white, good/evil divide, but the portrayals of the head Nazi and the femme fatale spy as homosexual (and therefore somehow depraved) is less easy to overlook, even when taking the very different attitudes of the time into account.

Because it was made while the smoke of war was still in the air, there is a convincing feel to it - even German P.O.W,s were used as soldier extras! Non-professionals for most of the cast add to the 'reality' of what we see. 'Rome, Open City' was not the first film made in a certain style, with a particular content, which came to be known as 'neorealist', but it was the first to gain international recognition, winning the best film prize at Cannes. How much the success influenced further (and greater) examples will remain conjecture, but its groundbreaking significance will not.

The documentary, realist direction may give a ringside seat, as it were, to a certain time and a certain place, but it does have the drawback of concentrating so much on authenticity, that the characters who inhabit that certain time and place become amorphous. This does not happen in, say, 'Bicycle Thieves', because the focus is solely on the man and boy; it does not happen in 'The Battle Of Algiers' because the story is the conflict, not the characters. But 'Rome, Open City' has quite a large cast, with a number of them given considerable time on screen. Two of them: Don Pietro and Pina turn out to be the protagonists. Because of Rossellini's distancing effect however, their fates become just another occurrence of the tragic period. Should we feel more? I think we should - but it doesn't happen. Nevertheless Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani, two of the few professionals in the cast, are wonderful.

It cannot be seen as the greatest of neorealist films, yet there is no doubt it is one of the landmarks in the history of cinema.

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Police Dog

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Dull.

(Edit) 30/04/2019

Outside of the scenes with Rex and his chums, this is one of those poor, cheap B films from the '50's which were produced on a near endless conveyor belt. There is a fairly decent chase at the start, and a mite of tension at the end, thanks to Rex, when the criminal is cornered. In between, there are some shots of police dog training, but unfortunately there is more time spent on a very dull romance, and dull conversations in a police station canteen involving an incredibly young Christopher Lee. Despite his presence there is only one star of the show...woof.

For dog lovers only.

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The Halfway House

Nowhere Near Halfway To Being Any Good.

(Edit) 26/04/2019

It's wartime propaganda, so allowances have to be made, but no amount of special pleading can prevent this from being an oversentimental, overdramatic, overacted underachievement. All the elements are here for a nice, eerily atmospheric ghost story, but the mawkishness and the inevitable patriotism is laid on with a trowel, burying the film every time it dares to raise its head above the infertile soil.

A number of guests converge on a country inn, each of them needing to stop and reflect on their life in order to make a right decision. The mystery of the hosts, and the inn itself, is telegraphed far too early, and as that's the only point of interest, the rest of the time is spent watching the cloying resolutions of each guest - which you know is going to happen anyway.

It's all so trite. Every one of the guests (even a teenage girl) speak frightfully, frightfully correct, what? Problems and attitudes which have festered over years disappear in minutes. Not one of the stories concerning each guest is the slightest bit original.

There is one enjoyable moment: when the host of The Halfway House tells the guests that the Welsh don't hate the English anymore. You just have to laugh.

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Autumn Sonata

The Food Of Love.

(Edit) 22/04/2019

For a long time Ingmar Bergman was number one on my list of overrated directors. Today, that mantle has passed to Tarkovsky, but even so, after watching 'Autumn Sonata', my first Bergman in many years, all the impatience and irritation I found in his works came flooding back. Too intense, too introspective. As misery piles on misery, with no character able to find the means of lightening their own mental darkness, indeed no character appearing to try to do so, there is always the danger (which is far from avoided) of judging them simply as weak-willed, and so sympathy begins to ebb.

I take nothing away from the atmosphere Bergman manages to engineer between mother and daughter. The skill at gradually dilineating how the relationship has always been could surely never be bettered. Charlotte (mother) has not seen daughter Eva for seven years, but has no sooner stepped into her house then she is rambling on about her own unhappy recent history. When Charlotte wants to go for a walk, and Eva wants to stay in, there is only one outcome. What has always come first for Charlotte is encapsulated in a phone call from her agent. Even though we later discover that she has more money than she knows how to spend, she still accepts concert dates when she's supposed to be free, because "How much do they pay, did you say?" Recriminations from Eva start slowly, almost in an undertone, but grow like a boil, until a final, irreparable outburst: "People like you are lethal - you should be locked up and made harmless".

The trademark Bergman close-up of faces is a further instance of his work I've found hard to appreciate. Too intimate when a bit of distance and perspective would help. In 'Autumn Sonata' though, it works. Shortly after Charlotte arrives, Eva plays a Chopin prelude for her. Nerves, (this failiure of a daughter playing for her great concert-pianist mother), make her play badly. As Charlotte demonstrates how it should be done, the camera concentrates on Eva's face, and all the memories of how life has been all about, and only about Charlotte, is reflected in one incredibly plaintive image. There are more moments when the face of both mother and daughter demonstrate how deep the knife of memory has cut. All of that is superbly done, and people who have had an intense relationship with their parents, both good and bad, or whose life has been affected by their upbringing, will relate strongly to much of the film.

But a lot of what we learn about Charlotte and Eva is related to us via a character talking to the camera, or a letter being read, or, worst of all, by Charlotte talking to herself. It's a cop-out, pure and simple. Show us, Ingmar, don't tell us. And in the end, sheer unrelenting gloom takes its toll. Not content with the lingering torment of childhood memories, we have to have a drowned child, a deliberately wrecked relationship, an abortion, the recent death of a close friend, back pain, another daughter who is severly handicapped, thoughts of suicide. Good grief, ENOUGH ALREADY! Music has certainly not been the food of love in this family.

As a film, because of the negatives, 'Autumn Sonata' cannot be worth more than three stars. There is an extra one however, because of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. It wouldn't be too far from the truth to say you'll never see better acting. Ullmann as the weak one, lets emotions ravage her face, whilst Bergman, the strong one, strains every sinew to hold back the turmoil. Absolutely magnificent.

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River Beat

Choppy.

(Edit) 21/04/2019

The dialogue is dire. The performers do enough - just. Its saving grace is a reasonable story played at a ripping pace. At just over an hour it shouldn't sag, and once the clumsy introductions to the characters is done, you'll probably stay for the ride, albeit cringing every few minutes at the lines. Locations, around the docks of London, also lift it away from the run-of-the-mill. Quite good, nothing more.

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The Medusa Touch

Turned Me To Stone All Right.

(Edit) 19/04/2019

There is some important stuff trying to claw its way to the surface of this film:- how can we stop the insanity of spending billions on arms and war, whilst spending pennies on peace? How can we stop the insanity of spending billions on space travel and nuclear energy, whilst spending peanuts on poverty and clean energy? If you had the power to crumble in your hand the whole stinking establishment, (the lawyers and judges, the politicians, businessmen, churchmen and royalty who represent this evil madness), how would you do it? Unfortunately this interesting, political light only splutters into life now and again; and in the end the film stops short of concentrating on WHY one man may hew this power, in favour of the crowd-pleasing option of him just doing it, accompanied by spectacular special effects.

'The Medusa Touch' consists of a police investigation into the assault on John Morlar, a writer, and someone who claims to be able to cause disasters just by thinking of them. Flashbacks into Morlar's life flesh out the story. It never really becomes more than a just above average policier (and only then because of the outstanding cast) with an element of average, fairly boring, horror thrown in for good measure.

Richard Burton gets top-billing, though we see him only sporadically, in the flashbacks. Even so, there are a few scenes, especially one in a courtroom, where he shifts into top gear, and if the hairs on the back of your neck don't start to tingle you've probably just passed away peacefully. The great Lino Ventura plays Inspector Brunel. (How good would it have been to see a confrontation between Burton and him?) He isn't given very much more to do than shuffle about asking questions, and, whereas his quality cannot help but shine through, it does seem a waste of a major talent. Lee Remick is too cool. What an effort it appears to be to raise an eyebrow, let alone the voice or an emotion. Michael Byrne, Derek Jacobi, Harry Andrews, Alan Badel, Michael Hordern, Robert Lang, Avril Elgar, are all, as you would expect, excellent, and lift the film considerably.

There is unintentional hilarity at the end, as polystyrene columns straight off the sets of 'Dr. Who' or 'Blake's 7' rain down on a crowd pretending to be terrified.

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Days of '36

Daze Of Angelopoulos.

(Edit) 17/04/2019

Most cinephiles will have begun to realise what all the fuss is about after seeing two or three of his films. Other directors have had an eye for a breathtaking image, but who else fills the entire running-time with moving photographs of such composition? And from such angles? And hold them for such a brave length of time? Tarkovsky? Too strained, and too unnatural. Besides, ever since I found out he deliberately had a horse fall down a flight of steps in 'Andrei Rublev' I've had no time for him. If you can't make a film without torturing animals you're not much good are you? Tarr? At his best he's perhaps the one who comes closest. But he's uneven, and isn't there a touch of arrogance in a lot of his work? Duras, Akerman, and others have made mesmerising films of great beauty, but there always seems to be a limit in either what they say, or how they say it.

If the subject of limits comes up, the counter-argument may run, what about Angelopoulos? He made films specifically about Greece; and. moreover, you practically need a PHD in Greek history to understand all of what's going on. There is something in that, but, in the case of 'Days Of '36' for instance, the stupidity of politicians isn't confined to Greece, nor is the abomination of interrogation rooms. This was Angelopoulos's second feature, but those who have seen some of his later work will recognise his trademarks from the off. The camera looks down from on high as a crowd gathers to hear what someone has to say. An assassin's bullet. The crowd scatters. The camera lingers. Then one man who has thrown himself down, slowly picks himself up - and dawdles. Within the first moments, Angelopoulos has caught universal behaviour.

Of course, as in all his films, there are scenes, some of them several minutes long, which only those with a knowledge of the time and place will understand. What's with the cavalry? Did they guard prisons in Greece at that time? What the Deuce was the scene with all the British twits on the beach about?

Never mind, why be querulous when there are so many scenes here of signature Angelopoulos? The prisoners' exercise; the recapture of escapees; best of all the effects and after-effects of music on the imprisoned men.

A synopsis will tell you 'Days Of '36' is about a hostage being taken by a prisoner. In fact it's about how the military and rigidly political mind works in such a situation. I don't think it will be much of a spoiler to say they don't come out of it with credit. It may not be a unique story, but Angelopoulos was a unique story-teller, and 'Days Of '36', like all his other films, is a unique viewing experience.

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The Maids

Maids Of Honour

(Edit) 15/04/2019

Sisters Solange and Claire are maids to Madame. It cannot be said they are happy in the way fate has thrown the dice. When chance dictates, they perform a 'ceremony', each taking turns in the role of mistress and servant, with the climax of each charade being the long-desired death of Madame. Undercurrents within the charades are so dense that lines between chimera and reality have blurred. No longer are wishes confined to fantasy. Madame too is lost in a masquerade. Refusing to believe in the ageing body her mirror shows, she is as blind to that as her refusal to believe the maids are people worthy of being treated as anything more than functionaries at her service. Class warfare evidently did not end with the French Revolution. As happened in 1789, as happened in 1947, when the play was first performed, as happens today, people with nothing slave away for people with everything.

As an outsider himself, continuously in and out of prison for theft and prostitution, it's no wonder Genet knew all about the seething resentment of those who are treated as sub-human. In a story of maids wishing to murder their mistress, there is little doubt where Genet's sympathies lay.

Unable to just walk away, (the sisters have nothing, they would have to steal to survive), they are imprisoned in Madame's apartment. The boudoir where the ceremonies take place is an opulent cell, but it is a cell nevertheless, and the director possibly makes a mistake in opening the play out, if only for brief moments, to the exterior of the building, a police station, a restaurant, the empty night-lit streets. These scenes lessen the oppression of the sisters, trapped inside the walls. It is difficult too not to find that some scenes are just a touch overwrought:- a fancy cocktail of toxins when simple venom would be better.

When you want an actor to spit venom in a play (in an English production) there is Glenda Jackson. All the rest fight it out to be next in line. That doesn't mean she isn't also the best when coolness, indecision, dissemblance, or any other character trait is called for. Susannah York is someone I've always thought of as trying too hard. It's as if you can see her working at it. But I've never seen her better than in 'The Maids'. Perhaps it was just a case of hanging on to Jackson's coat-tails as she soared. Vivien Merchant is brilliant as Madame. Exactly the right amount of condescension, which she thinks is generosity, and the sisters perceive as contempt. Madame can't be bothered to get their names right. She gives a coat to Solange, and then takes it back without realising what she's done. She tells them how lucky they are to be given clothes - "I have to go out and buy them".

'The Maids' is a great play, despite the overwritten fragments, and should be seen just for that reason. If that isn't enough, watch it for Glenda Jackson. To see the greatest practitioner in any field of the Arts is always both a lesson and a treat.

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The Serpent

No Bite.

(Edit) 12/04/2019

One of those plots which have become familiar to the point of boredom when it comes to noir thrillers: psychopath out for revenge, and going a convoluted way about it. Throw in characters who are supposed to be reasonably intelligent, but who perform the dimmest acts imaginable (e.g. Vincent Mandel, the main protagonist, has just been falsely accused of rape, but he agrees to meet the girl again - ALONE, AND WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE!!); and a tedious domestic crisis, which partly accounts for Mandel's decision making (but doesn't really); and we have nothing but a shell of a film.

The actors give typical performances for something of this kind: Yvan Attal has fraught bemusement on his face for most of the duration. Clovis Cornillac is the hard man with malign eyes, who we keep seeing brooding malevolently.

Thrillers depend upon a suspension of disbelief for the length of time you're watching. 'Le Serpent' does not provide that for a moment. Watch it to see what happens, if you can be bothered, but don't press too hard on any point of interest other than that, because the whole thing will break like an Easter egg.

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