Film Reviews by NC

Welcome to NC's film reviews page. NC has written 85 reviews and rated 194 films.

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Cat and Mouse

A Cheap Diamond.

(Edit) 09/02/2019

Ann Coltby is lured to an address on the other side of town, and so falls into the hands of a middle-aged nasty piece of work. Then, when she thinks she has accidentally killed him, into those of a mentally unstable G.I. deserter. Improbable enough, but then we have to believe it's all about some diamonds stolen by her father twenty years earlier, which no-one has bothered to try to find since. This is only the beginning of a series of coincidences and near-impossibilities which run through the film like a seam.

It's a shame because there is something of a decent effort buried beneath the usual fault-lines of a cheap B picture. Coltby finds herself held prisoner back in her own home, where a lot of the action takes place, giving a well-handled claustrophobic atmosphere. The dialogue is as wildly inconsistent as the G.I., but putting up with the worst means the reward of much better stuff as well (two scriptwriters?). Easily the best aspect of the film is the presence of Ann Sears. Given the tired, stock character traits she is presumably made to enact from the director, and some dire lines, to still pull off a performance like this requires real talent. How on Earth was she not better known?

More cock and bull than cat and mouse, if you can get past the pretty awful first 15/20 minutes you'll probably find yourself hooked.

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Wadjda

Girl On A Bike.

(Edit) 05/02/2019

Wadjda has no time for all that religious nonsense. While other girls are learning the Koran by heart, she is more interested in listening to pop music, and saving up for a green bicycle she has set her heart on. She wears trainers instead of black shoes, and is constantly told to cover her face.

This is Saudi Arabia, where double standards permeate the air like oxygen, and are inhaled from birth. She is told not to sing too loud, as men might hear - yet she is assailed by men working on a building site to 'show us your little apples'. Family trees consist of male names only. Girls are married off while still at school, but can be cast away if they cannot bear children (males, that is, females don't count). Every decision a woman makes is conditioned by how it will affect a man. Step out of line and the religious police may come calling.

When Wadjda learns that the prize money for a Koran reading competition is more than enough for the coveted bike, her determination to win has nothing to do with the religious zeal her teachers think she has found.

In a world where women are not allowed to drive, where they are at the whim of crochetty private drivers, or spend hours on the bus, or simply have to ring work to say they can't make it in, a girl on a bicycle is an extraordinarily powerful symbol. Haifaa Al-Mansour's debut film is also the first feature length film by a female Saudi, and the first shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. All these 'firsts' make it remarkable enough. For it to be next door to a masterpiece makes it miraculous. Performances from the children and adults are peerless. The scenes with Wadjda and her friend Abdullah are incredibly beautiful. Hollywood would have lush music, limpid eyes and soppy words here. It's the difference between plonking fingers down on a keyboard, and listening to Vladimir Horowitz.

The film ends gloriously.Which way next for Wadjda on the long road to freedom?

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Strongroom

Breathless.

(Edit) 03/02/2019

Not an airtight plot, and not an entirely original one. Off the top of my head I can think of one film, 'Time Lock', five years earlier (1957), which had a similar premise (i.e. - getting someone out of a bank vault before they suffocated); there were probably others too. And in the end there are a couple of coincidences and contrivances too many to give it full marks. Still, it is way above your average forgotten cheapie.

Vernon Sewell had already made more than twenty features by this time, including the excellent 'The Man In The Back Seat' (also with Derren Nesbitt and Keith Faulkner), and experience shows in a tight framework which is hardly allowed to slacken for a moment. Much depends on performances, and all four main leads are superb. The script too is as strong as a fist, with a real punch at the end. The straight-laced bank manager's unbuttoning of his private life, his thwarted hopes and ambitions, at the same time as jacket, tie and collar are loosened, could not have been better done.

When a film makes you sympathise with the baddies as well as the innocent, it is doing something unusual, and genuinely remarkable.

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Dancing with Crime

Too Many Improbables.

(Edit) 31/01/2019

A taxi-driver and his girl ignore police advice and decide to investigate a black-market ring that has killed their friend. A routine crime story, professionally done, but with a preposterous ending which relegates it from a 'quite good' to a 'if you've got nothing better to do'.

The cast are good, the dialogue is a fraction above average, and there is a noir-ish atmosphere, with (studio-bound) small, crowded, night-time streets; pub and police-station interiors; and guns drawn at every opportunity.

Much of the action takes place in a night-club, and perhaps the main interest of the film lies in catching a glimpse of such a venue, post-war (1947), complete with orchestra, M.C., and dance hostesses.

Diana Dors and Dirk Bogarde make very early, and uncredited, career appearances.

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The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe

The Awful French Film With One Running Gag.

(Edit) 30/01/2019

I will confess straight off that I do not like slapstick, so I sat through this film with barely a snigger. My wife, on the other hand, has the opposite taste, and laughed her hat off. It's broad comedy, full of smacks in the face, cigarettes down trousers, somersaults off bicycles, gorgeous women falling for buffoons, etc,etc. If you like that sort of thing you'll love it; if not, not.

'The Tall Blond Man' is a lampoon on the familiar espionage story: men in long coats and black cars, a honey trap, suspicions and underhand machinations within the department. Done cleverly, with words rather than pratfalls, it could have been great. I realise it IS great for a lot of people, but I can't see it.

Blier and Rochefort are, of course, excellent. Mireille Darc has little more to do than look stunning, and does it marvellously. Pierre Richard seems to model himself on Hollywood comedians such as Jerry Lewis and Gene Wilder. As I can't bear these people at any price it is not surprising I am less than enthusiastic. Silly faces, and being bested in a fight with bagpipes do not make me fall off the chair.

The disc generously also contains the sequel: 'The Return Of The Blond Man'. I wish it hadn't - then I wouldn't have had the misfortune of seeing it. A tamer story, with lamer jokes, and everybody looking bored. Truly dreadful. Even my wife hardly smiled at this one.

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Tawny Pipit

A Flight Of Fancy.

(Edit) 26/01/2019

A propaganda film (1944) that trumpets an idealised Britain which never ever existed. I'm sure it retains a lot of charm for a lot of people, but this old cynic cannot see past the Potemkin village facade.

If only it was believable that there was once a time when a whole community would unite to protect a nesting bird, and this represented a country of 'welcome' and 'fair play'. It might be argued that you don't have to believe all that guff to enjoy the film, just accept it as a pastoral idyll, in much the same way as a Vaughan Williams symphony, for instance. But it's a false idyll. An insular island people, unceasingly destroying the nature around them, inveterately racist, are here dissembled as the exact opposite. The shots of the pipit (even if it is a 'meadow' and not a 'tawny') are beautiful, though.

It's one of those films where everyone talks in a very correct, very 'U' way. Even the land girls, straight from shop and hairdressing work in the town, have ever so clipped voices. The acting is as stiff as the accents. Bernard Miles goes over the top (perhaps deliberately) as the major in the village. He's of the type you normally see shooting birds rather than saving them.

It has interest as a piece of propaganda, but I'm not fooled into thinking this was ever what Britain stood for.

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Diary of a Chambermaid

Serving Up A Bit Of A Disappointment.

(Edit) 21/01/2019

All of Bunuel's accustomed betes-noires: the bourgeoisie, fascism, religion, are given the pasting you might expect, but 'Diary Of A Chambermaid' is one of his films where virtually everyone, and every institution, is battered. Only Marianne, a middle-aged skivvy, verbally abused by a member of the staff at the big house, and (so we are led to believe) sexually abused by the master of the house, is someone we can sympathise with.

A new chambermaid arrives, elegant and sophisticated, a bird of a different feather to the rest of the servants. She is witness to the vile racism of groom/gardener Joseph, plotting with the sexton to rid France of 'wops and kikes'. She puts up with the shoe fetish of the old man in the house, walking around the room for him in 'nice little booties'. She seems to be able to listen in on private conversations; not long after the master tells his wife he won't go near the new girl because she's from Paris, and carries Heaven knows what disease, she evades his marauding hands by informing him she has the pox.

When a child is raped and murdered in the woods nearby, she is pretty clear in her mind about who has done it, and stages a plan to trap him. Her excessive,unnecessary commitment to the strategy doesn't ring true in the slightest, and totally spoils the film.

Michel Piccoli, Muni, and Georges Geret are very fine, but there is one overwhelming reason to watch 'Diary Of A Chambermaid': Jeanne Moreau. Even playing a cool, understated character, displaying little emotion, but with a quiet ambition, she exudes light and fire. One of the greatest ever screen presences once again shows how the best make it look easy.

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Dilemma

The Dilemma Is To Give It Four Stars Or Five.

(Edit) 19/01/2019

What would you do if you came home and found a body in the bathroom, and you thought your loved one, who had just rushed out of the house, was the killer? A terrific little film, just over an hour long, follows the procedure of a man as he sets about solving the 'dilemma'.

Robert Dean gives a bravura performance as a soul in crisis, driven to the edge by a sudden circumstance beyond his control.

Most of the action takes place in the house, giving a tense, oppressive, theatrical feel. The short running time ensures suspense is never permitted to slacken.

'Dilemma' contains only one minor fault: the stereotypical nosy, sexually repressed neighbour (with the stereotypical unexciting husband). The constant interruptions the man has to endure from his neighbour (and others) increases the stressed atmosphere, but it is a bit of a pity a more original tactic could not have been envisioned. Incidentally, the Radio Times gives only one star to this gem - absolute numpties.

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Mother Joan of the Angels

Devil Of A Film.

(Edit) 16/01/2019

The supposed demonic possession of nuns in a 17th Century Loudun convent doesn't appear to have ceased being discussed, debated and transformed into scholarly and imaginative works. In the 20th Century two books, a play, an opera, and two films attest to the way it still appeals to the creative mind. 'Mother Joan' is the first, and immeasurably greater, of the films (Ken Russell's flamboyant 'The Devils' being the later). From the very first shot of Father Suryn prostrate on the floor, in the form of an inverted crucifix, we are treated to photography, imagery and choreography which have surely never been bettered. Figures in a stark black-and-white world of good versus evil.

Kawalerowicz clearly thinks factors other than the battle between God and the Devil were involved. The isolation of the convent, perched on a hill, a barren land surround, with no other building save an inn - where the goings-on are the very opposite of life in an Ursuline house. The relentless suppression, religious and sexual. The burnt-out pyre and stake, outside the convent walls, as a reminder of what happens when someone steps out of line.

It is easy to understand that Kawalerowicz, living through a stormy Polish history, knew about repression and the 'taking over' of souls by demons, and so would attribute a human rather than a supernatural cause to the event.

The script (Tadeusz Konwicki) and the acting are as good as it gets.

So why does it not merit five stars? The film's depiction of women leaves a faintly sour taste in the mouth. Not just the sexually repressed nuns, but the one non-nun, the landlady of the inn, is a vamp and assists in the squire's nasty deflowering. The ending too is inconclusive and unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, this is a great film. The scene where a line of nuns in brilliant white emerge one by one out of pitch darkness ranks as one of the greatest things I've ever seen on a screen.

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Noose

Warrants Hanging.

(Edit) 13/01/2019

A racketeer will stop at nothing to protect his business. Murder and maimings are a regular practice. A young female reporter crosses his path.

Nigel Patrick, usually cool and anchored, plays the racket's second-in-command, and is the only reason for watching this terrible film. His rattling motormouth, working triple-time, enlivens every scene he's in. The veteran Hay Petrie has a small part as a barber/executioner, and manages to generate some menace. The rest of the cast flounder and sink in wave after wave of turgid lines and direction, helplessly lost at sea. One of those films you regret wasting your time on.

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Cast a Dark Shadow

Shocking - That It's So Good.

(Edit) 11/01/2019

'Cast A Dark Shadow' is one of those drawing-room murder/suspense/thriller/dramas, based on a stage play, which, when very well done and very well acted, provide riches greater than an unsurprising plot and the date (1955) may make the audience expect.

Ed (Teddy) Bare has a charm which fools older women into thinking he isn't courting them solely for their money. When his marriage to 'Monnie' ends in a deadly misunderstanding, he is on the look-out for his next sugar-mummy. Enter Freda Jeffries. But Teddy Bare has made another false step...

Lewis Gilbert, later to make 'Alfie' and 'The Spy Who Loved Me', keeps the tension taut. Plenty of shadow, and deep-focus photography encourages an appropriate atmosphere. Dirk Bogarde may not do anything you haven't seen before from him - but by crackey does he do it better than almost everybody else. Yes, the eyebrows may work overtime a little too much, but the subtle change of expression, the small alteration of voice register, the total conviction that he is that character whether he's spreading the soft-soap on thick or raging in a demented fury, are a privilege to behold. Bogarde is so great that I've never seen him upstaged by another actor - until now. Margaret Lockwood is an utter revelation. Forget any notion (such as I had) about the type of acting seen in routine costume romances, or the big-budget, star-studded blockbusters of the day. I had an idea of what she would be like in the film, but she blew all that out of the water, acting her socks off as a hard-as-brass, seen-it-before widow, unwilling to shake off her ordinary background, contemptuous of the rich but wanting to live their lifestyle. And she patently will not take any baloney from new husband Ed about needing money for this or that. Teddy Bare has met his match. Kathleen Harrison has often seemed too shrill, too deliberately the simple, working-class archetype. But here she gets it bang on the money as Emmie, the maid of all work, used and exploited by 'Mr. Bare' in such an underhand way she still regards him as a kind and considerate gentleman. His frequent 'Toddle, Emmie' will live with me for quite a while.

Interesting hints there may be a latent homosexuality to Teddy Bare lie scattered across the film. His repugnance when it comes to hugging and kissing may not be just because of the age gap. His constant referral to 'Monnie' sounds remarkably like 'Mommy'. Most overt of all is the body-building magazine he browses as he awaits his opening shot with Freda Jeffries.

I came to 'Cast A Dark Shadow' expecting a lightweight but reasonable potboiler. I came away thinking there really can't be all that many better films of its kind.

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The Phantom Carriage

A Ride To The End Of The Line.

(Edit) 09/01/2019

David Holm's dissolute life has ruined not only himself, but also practically everyone who goes too near him. Even a Salvation Army officer lies dying after too close a contact. His past catches up with him on the stroke of midnight, New Year's Eve, as he sprawls in a graveyard after a drunken brawl, and the carriage of death ghosts around the corner.

It is a life told in flashbacks, but all of the (by today's standards) hard-to-take aspects of silent films are wonderfully absent: there is very little exaggerated melodrama, very little over-the-top histrionics. Instead we get to see a man grown bitter and cynical, who flings compassion back in the face of the giver because he is unable to respond in kind, who is given a second chance but drinks it away.

Performances are superb, but special mention must go to Victor Sjostrom (the director himself) as David Holm. Apparently he lived for a time in the slums of Stockholm in order to gain knowledge and bring authenticity to the role. There is no mugging, no wild gesticulations, just a naturalism so far ahead of its time that if there wasn't evidence that this was made in 1921 I would not have believed it. It's perhaps the finest piece of acting I've seen in a silent film.

'The Phantom Carriage' almost falls victim to its own excellence. The special effects with the horse and cart, and the driver reaping souls, are so extraordinary, that fingers tremble on the verge of drumming if other scenes last a shade too long. And the film doesn't deserve the cop-out ending, very much of its age.

Buy a ticket for this carriage. It's a journey you may remember till your dying day.

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The Cry

A Sovereign, Or A Somnolent?

(Edit) 02/01/2019

Few directors divide opinion as much as Antonioni. For some his films are a snore-fest. For many others they are unsurpassed studies of alienation; of loners or (much more usually) of couples searching for meaning in a meaningless world. Good arguments can be found for both factions, not only across the oeuvre, but also within individual films, and 'Il Grido' is one such example.

Aldo thinks he has found contentment. A beautiful woman and a job he likes - what more could he wish for? So when the opportunity arrives for that happiness to be cemented in marriage, his illusions are shattered when Irma refuses him, furthermore revealing she has found another man. Aldo, small daughter in tow, decides to put distance between himself and his torment, and so drifts across the region, encountering occasional women and jobs; inevitably to find the torment is within himself and so inescapable.

If they're not careful, films about 'drift' and fruitless searches can meander and get lost in a fog of their own making; and unfortunately 'Il Grido' falls into the trap. Aldo just isn't a sympathetic enough character to elicit much care about what happens to him. Even though Rosina, his daughter, is his responsibility, he is willing to leave her alone while he has his fling with his woman of the moment - but it's the woman's fault if Rosina goes missing for a while. He is so wrapped up in his own misery that he doesn't give a second's thought to the feelings of others.

Steve Cochran is given the easy task of having to show one expression only: a soured, sullen slouch. He is so successful that it becomes impossible to believe beautiful women want to spend more than two minutes in his company, never mind want to jump into bed with him at the first chance. The great Alida Valli, an ever-present in Aldo's mind, has only a fairly small part in the film. She disappointingly looks uninterested throughout.

In compensation, the qualities Antonioni is famous for:- the geometry of the shots; the matching of background and landscape with mood, is here for all to marvel at. There are no nice, sunny days - just grey skies, rain, snow, mud and slush. Everywhere Aldo goes the earth is being excavated, built on, destroyed; trees are being cut down, animals (porcupines) are being caught and roasted (the only animals we actually see are a caged rabbit and a scavenging dog). When Aldo returns to his home town the fields are set to be turned into an airfield.

'Il Grido' will give ammunition to people on both sides of the divide about Antonioni. But there is enough here for his supporters to just about win the match on points.

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Sisters in Law

A Better Place - Because Of Two Women.

(Edit) 01/01/2019

Kim Longinotto and her collaborators have been responsible for several fascinating documentaries. In Japan, 'Gaea Girls' tells the tale of female wrestlers, and their ferocious training regime. 'Shinjuku Boys' takes us into the world of trans people: their struggle within themselves, as well as with the outer world. In Iran, she made 'Divorce Iranian Style' and 'Runaway', set in, respectively, a divorce court and a refuge for women seeking shelter from abuse.

In 2005 she turned her attention to a law court in Cameroon, where two assertive women refuse to allow patriarchy, centuries-old custom, or even Sharia Law from preventing justice. Court President Beatrice Ntuba and prosecutor Vera Ngassa take on a domain where beatings, rape and disparagement are endemic; where a (male) family friend can witness such things and still proclaim the husband and wife 'a happy couple'. This is a culture where women are married off at 14, and from then on live a life of relentless work and child-bearing. Women seem to be lucky if they are treated as second-class citizens - slaves and property are nearer the mark.

That is until grievances are taken to the Women Lawyers Association. There, perhaps for the first time, men come up against women stronger than themselves, and the bemusement it causes sometimes affords wry humour.

But it is not just men who are brought before the court. A child has been beaten so severely that weals are revealed all over her body. Her aunt is shown no mercy during questioning and judgment. The child's family gather around and evince horror at her treatment. A query has to arise as to how they were apparently quite happy to forget she ever existed - until the cameras turned up to film the proceedings. There is a scene in the prison which eradicates any satisfaction the viewer may have at seeing the aunt punished.

Longinotto has done it again. This is documentary film-making at its finest. All hail the two 'sisters in law' in Cameroon who are fighting to make the world around them a better place.

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Heavens Above!

Heaven Definitely Isn't Here.

(Edit) 29/12/2018

As is so often the case, here is a good film trying to punch its way out of a thin, poorly constructed, baggy production.

Orbiston Parva is a well-heeled parish, the residents stuck in typical mores: I'm comfortable, I want more, I don't give a fig for anything else. So when a new vicar arrives, one who believes that people who profess to be Christians should lead a Christian life, the outcome can only mean trouble.

Of course comedy is a perfectly legitimate tool to tackle such a subject. Satire can be a magnifying glass or a scalpel. It can deflate the pompous. But it doesn't work if it can't show it's fighting on the right side. When an overflowing family of gypsies are evicted from a field, and the Rev. Smallwood rehomes them in the vicarage, any idea that he is right and the men in suits wrong is vitiated by portraying the family as spongers and thieves. When a food bank is instigated, the implication that this is absolutely the right thing (the Christian thing) to do is scuppered by the ridiculous concept that anybody and everybody can turn up and just do their big shop there - for nothing; turning the main street into a ghost town.

It would seem the Boulting Brothers had no time for do-gooders, but they needed to do better than this to show why. It is also ridiculously long. The ending is a stupid bore.

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