Film Reviews by CH

Welcome to CH's film reviews page. CH has written 172 reviews and rated 176 films.

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The Uninvited

A Ghost of a Chance

(Edit) 05/10/2021

It is 1937, and while strolling along the cliffs of the English coast brother and sister Ray Milland (he a composer) Ruth Hussey become enchanted by a large empty house into which their dog has chased a squirrel.

From such a small event (momentous if you are the squirrel) springs a tale which transcends time and space as a ghost brings tidings from two decades earlier.

All of which is a far cry from Milland's bravura spirit when first moving in. He thinks twice about sliding down the curving banister - “I don't want to damage the landing gear.” A new phrase on me. And, indeed, the film suggests a Lesbian relationship between a teacher and the dead woman whose portrait hangs on her wall.

When reviewing the film on its 1944 release, James Agee said that it transformed a mediocre story (the screenplay from an obscure novel was co-written by Dodie Smith, whose way with dogs is of course well known). “Ot seems to me harder to get a fright than a laugh, and I experienced thirty-five first-class jolts, not to mention a well-calculated texture of minor frissons.”

That electrical rate might not be as high eighty years on but – more mystery than Gothic – it has an atmosphere of civilised malevolence, not least the performances by Donald Crisp who forbids his grand-daughter Stella (the tragic Gail Russell) to visit the house, and Cornelis Otis Skinner as that teacher, her facial movements a masterclass in seething contempt.

And if this were not enough, there is Victor Young's theme music for the grand-daughter, which, a few years later, would have Ned Washington's words added to create “Stella by Starlight” - and, simultaneously, staying with the music alone for numerous versions by such jazz artists as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

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Swimming Pool

The Plunge of Life

(Edit) 27/09/2021

How does one depict writing on the screen. At several points in Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool (2003) a crime novelist (Charlotte Rampling) reaches for her laptop to add to the word count of the latest case for her Inspector. This can hardly be something to engross the viewer; in fact, it provides a space in which to ponder everything that we have seen happen around her.

On the face of it, this is not much. Weary of her series, she has been persuaded by her publisher (Charles Dance) to retreat to his poolside villa in the Luberon and let inspiration flow. As is the way of sunny idylls, there is an incursion.

Crashing through the door one day is Ludivine Sangier, the wild and beautiful daughter of Dance by a dead lover, neither of whom was known to Charlotte Rampling (something which upsets her notion that in life one should have a novelist's omniscience). Ludivine lives for drink and men; there seems to be as many of the later as there are bottles; flesh and glass alike are thrown out when used up.

All this disturbs a writer's peace – and provides a variant upon the Inspector's increasingly routine investigations.

Beautifully made, in and out of the water, the film does not shy from lingering, and takes on a dreamlike quality. As the minutes go by, one wonders what is really happening to all these people. Are they a part of life itself or the imagination? And, for all of us, do these overlap?

See it on one's own with pleasure; and with others, it brings debate that could see off another bottle or more. And express surprise that Charlotte Rampling writes directly upon the screen.

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You Can't Take It with You

Of Harm and a Harmonica

(Edit) 13/09/2021

Exactly what makes a film a screwball cannot be precisely defined. Certainly these are rooted in misunderstanding and mayhem, but, then, nobody calls the Marx Brothers' work screwball. At two hours, You Can't Take It With You is longer than most, and it starts slowly. Put simply, there are two households, one presided over by financier Edward Arnold and the other a bunch of madcap inventors indulged by Lionel Barrymore who has long since thrown in capitalism and taken his winnings so that he can enjoy life itself – in a prime piece of real estate upon which Arnold has his eye as a crucial part of a complex deal. As in the board game Monopoly, one can only build hotels when one has all of that colour group of properties.

To all this there is a Romeo and Juliet element, for Barrymore's daughter (the ever-delightful Jean Arthur) works in the Barrymore building and has fallen in love with his son (James Stewart). All this sprang from one of the Broadway successes by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, augmented in some ways for the film by Robert Riskin – and seen through the eyes of director Frank Capra. He has often been deemed sentimental. Among those to do so was Graham Greene, who began his contemporary article about it with “as for the reviewer, he can only raise his hands in a kind of despair” and appears to deem it a variant upon A Christmas Carol. Two paragraphs on, Greene takes an about-turn. “It sounds awful, but it isn't as awful as all that, for Capra has a touch of genius with a camera: his screen always seems twice as big as other people's, and he cuts as brilliantly as Eisenstein (the climax when the big bad magnate takes up his harmonica is so exhilarating in its movement that you forget its absurdity). Humour and not wit is his line, a humour which shades off into whimsicality. We may groan and blush as he cuts his way remorselessly through all finer values to the fallible human heart, but infallibly he makes his appeal – to that great soft organ with its unreliable goodness and easy melancholy and baseless optimism. The cinema, a popular craft, can hardly be expected to do more.”

In many ways, the film is a series of vignettes, such as the night-time walk through a park by James Stewart and Jean Arthur who are treated to an ad hoc musical dance routine by a group of children who leave a mark upon her which becomes evident when Stewart takes her, in the very next scene, to meet his parents in a smart restaurant. If the film turns upon such contrary encounters, it does not stale, one feels for all those involved as much as one is entertained be their continual mishaps, not the least of which is a huge explosion and its concomitant, a crowded police-station cell. Capra was of course a master of the crowd scene in all its forms (already seen, for example, in Lost Horizon, as it would be in It's a Wonderful Life).

Here, eighty years on, is a very good time – and it brings to mind that Punch cartoon in which a solicitor at a desk reads from the will to the assembled company: “he says that he has taken it with him.”

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Dancing with Crime

Splendid Potatoes. All Floury. Excellent Boilers.

(Edit) 28/08/2021

Such was late-Forties Soho when greengrocers favoured as elaborate a sign as that. It is glimpsed towards the end of Dancing with Crime (1947). Set by night throughout, here is opportunity for many a neon-light commentary upon events as they unfurl

in spiv-laden territory. One can never forget the moment, when, chased by bullets, the associate of a Mr. Big collapses in an alley at the end of which, across the road, flashes the title of a musical: SPREAD A LITTLE HAPPINESS.

Directed by John Paddy Carstairs from a Brock Williams screenplay, the story is a broad-brush one but sports many such details. Former soldier Richard Attenborough is now a taxi driver and engaged to Shelia Sim (off screen, they had recently married) who hankers for a stage career but, like so many, has to settle for what she can get in these austerity years. As chance has it, such is the taxi life, he encounters an Army friend who seems to be living well on nothing a year (as that memorable Thackeray chapter title once had it). Of course the Army man is mixed up with the black market whose front, naturally, is a night club with rather a good jazz orchestra

whose work is the background to many “ladies, excuse me” dance.

These ladies know what is good, if potentially dangerous, for them. As one of them remarks, “Men! They all want to take you to Brighton. What's so special about Brighton?” Unlike his subsequent appearance in Brighton Rock, Attenborough is here on the right side of the Law, if maverick in the way that he and Shelia Sim set about enacting revenge upon a Mr. Big given to such lines as “don't get too close – I'm fastidious.” What's more, he tells those he does not trust that they deserve a rest on his farm; needless to say, they meet a sorry end before reaching any such pastoral tranquility.

Here, again, we see how much a film gains by ensemble playing. Nobody is expected to “carry” it. A bartender can be as crucial in a few seconds as anybody else. And space must be found to mention Judy Kelly, who plays a nightclub singer on the slide (the lyrics were written by somebody with the unlikely-but-true surname of Purcell). A shame that she made only one more film after this.

With so much in these eighty minutes, one has to watch it again before long – and keep an eye out for more of those signs.

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Allied

Kind of Blue

(Edit) 22/08/2021

In a review of the Marx Brothers' glossy production A Day at the Races, Graham Greene looked back in preference at their earlier work: “these revellers of the higher idiocy should not mingle with real people nor play before lavish scenery and an arty camera. Like the Elizabethans, they need only a chair, a painted tree”.

Paradoxically enough, Greene's remark came to mind while watching Allied (2016) which is set in the Europe of World War Two with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard to the fore – against many an impressive background.

In the opening moments a parachute opens, and Pitt lands upon the desert somewhere in the vicinity of Casablanca, to which he is spirited in an automobile rather cleaner than one would expect amidst those swirling sands. Come the arrival in that fabled city, he – a Canadian agent – is embroiled in drama and romance akin to that for which the place supplied the title of a film eighty years ago.

No more than Bogart's joint was filmed in situ, Pitt did not descend from the clouds in this one. To say that this, and much of Allied, is a digital re-creation can miss the point (whether the scenes be there or Hampstead). One only needs to think of the many scenes in films across the decades in which people drive an automobile while it is clear that the twists and turns of the road are a back-projection. Good acting, and lighting, can carry aloft such a simulacrum: suspension of disbelief.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis (who began his career with Spielberg) from a script by Steven Knight, Allied draws upon many a wartime trope: eternal suspicions of a double-cross amidst a sexual free-for-all (at a party, as an air-raid siren goes off, a door opens beneath the stairs, whence naked breasts tumble forth, swiftly followed by a soldier on leave).

If the story sometimes appears about to clunk, Zemeckis's sense of pace carries it along, scant time to question its international logistics. The two-hour traffic of the screen is swift – and equally absorbing are the DVD's extras which a cinema audience would not have seen. As is often the case with such mini-documentaries, we are told that all concerned are geniuses to whom Leonardo would pay homage if he had anticipated cinema.

What becomes more interesting, in these brisk depictions of collaboration, is the way in which digital techniques can become the contemporary equivalent of the Elizabethan methods to which Greene alluded. A replica Lysander aeroplane was built when it became apparent that the necessity for rain would wreck the one surviving example – and the rest of that airfield's squadron was replicated upon a keyboard. Time and again, Brad Pitt and the others acted their scenes before a sheer-blue background: this would become the place in which Casablanca or Hampstead would be projected before our eyes.

Strange to think that Hollywood actors now find themselves working upon the equivalent of a bare-bones village-hall stage.

The ultimate judge is the retina - upon which Allied leaves a good impression. Even so the brain might question whether those agonies should become entertainment here and now. Perhaps that was the reaction to Casablanca.

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Black Legion

Nick's Bar

(Edit) 19/08/2021

How can one of Humphrey Bogart's best performances be in the shadow of others that are more widely known? Such is the fate of the prolific. He appeared in many a routine work for Warner Brothers during the Thirties, but Black Legion (1937) is in a class apart. Bogart, who works in an engineering factory, hankers for promotion so that, in the suburbs, he can treat wife and son to more (even a vacuum cleaner) – and himself to a smart automobile whose salesman, typically, tells him that this is the only one in that colour at the moment.

What Bogart – that voice! - takes for a natural progression falters when the foreman's job is given to a Pole who has made much of studying, on the job and a night school. Sour, Bogart becomes so embittered, the voice heard through booze, that he is a prey, via a weasely chemist, for a hooded Klan-like bunch whose campaigning method is, in effect, Put America First: it signs up adherents beside an open-air fire upon which they will be roasted if they do not fork out for cut-price revolvers.

All this has transatlantic, indeed worldwide resonances now. What one should stress is that its effect not only derives from those night-time scenes (so well caught by director Archie Mayo with the help of Michael Curtiz, himself an immigrant), but the many domestic ones. The kitchen sink is as prominent, with radio broadcasts providing some relief, as do excursions to the movies (the posters seem, at a glimpse, to be parodies of Warner titles). What's more, after one film, another couple go for a drink nearby. This is, in effect, Nick's Bar. The eponymous Nick Strumpas is played by Pat C. Flick, who wields the most extraordinary eyebrows this side of Groucho (he wrote screenplays as well as making such appearances).

Graham Greene reviewed this film, prominently, in the second issue of Night and Day magazine. Unlike me, he could not then have punned upon the Rick's Bar of a few year hence, but Greene knew where “the real horror lies: the real horror is not in the black robes and skull emblems, but in the knowledge that these hide the weak and commonplace faces you have met over the counter and minding the next machine”.

He was then at work upon Brighton Rock. One cannot help but feel that films such as this had an effect upon his Pinkie. He also remarks upon its ending, which remains an equal point of discussion about his novel, in print and on screen.

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Wide Boy

A Special Price for You, Squire

(Edit) 17/08/2021

Jonathon Green's huge three-volume Dictionary of Slang dates the term “spiv” to 1929, with possible origins in the Romany for sparrow, a creature whom they deem to live on others' leavings. One certainly recognises the puffed-chest type, and they are abundant in Ken Hughes's first film, Wide Boy (1952): the title is a synonym, the geezer in question a lodging-house denizen played – jaunty hat, and all – by Sydney Tafler who, to continue the avian theme, hawks dodgy goods from a pavement suitcase while forever being moved on by the Law.

From a story by Rex Rienits, all this runs at just over an hour – and is better packed than any such suitcase. In an instant we learn that Tafler's girlfriend (the glamorous and tragic Susan Shaw) has tastes way beyond the proceeds of what one might call his day-job. A sequence of events in this brilliant encapsulation of post-war London – high and low – leads to a series of night-time encounters in a bombed-out Paddington house.

It does not give away too much to say that this is the classic case of a blackmailer who cannot take his winnings and walk away. After all, having been given a bottle of champagne in a smart joint, Susan Shaw naturally expects many more where that came from.

Tafler's performance captures exactly the bluff of the vulnerable at heart; those who, lacking the graft to fulfil their dreams, snarl when put on the spot. That is his tragedy, so well caught is this terrible descent (as it would also be in Rienits's screenplay Noose for a Lady). Ken Hughes had a fine sense of English noir: light and shade of course, train whistles and all, but also funds kept in a shoe and concealed by a sock in a wardrobe which also houses the whisky reserved for celebrations and commiserations.

Never over-doing it, Hughes puts the dram into dramatic.

To call something a small triumph is unfair. To adapt Gertrude Stein: a triumph is a triumph is a triumph.

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The Cranes Are Flying

Chekhov under Fire

(Edit) 15/08/2021

This 1957 film's title denotes the V-shaped flight by a flock of birds on their way to another life. It could equally apply to the very filming of this by Mikhail Kalatozov who animates a simple tale by much use of overhead cameras. Here, in the brief political spring after Stalin's death, he was able to fashion something poetic – from Viktor Rozov's play – about Moscow in the war rather than merely trumpeting the glories of the Fatherland.

The young Tatyana Samoylova is to be married to Aleksey Batalova. Theirs is a joyful romance which finds him rushing up a curving staircase to be with her. The camera is forever moving in these ninety minutes. Indeed, the cameras. Events are seen from many angles, sometimes with scenes superimposed upon each other in the reverie of memory.

And memory is the dominating force. All too soon, before any nuptials, the Pact has broken down, Russia and Germany are at war, and he is called away to serve at the Front. Typical of Kalatozov's blending of the crowd and the personal is her rushing to be there to see him off at the railway station. Heartache, on all sides, is palpable.

The way in which events turn out is typical of life for many – around the world – in wartime. Loneliness, anxiety, treachery. To say any more of the plot would reduce it to the nuts and bolts of tank; is is far more smoothly done than that. An air raid or a woodland death with a last glimpse of trees, is caught in an ever-swirling manner, in quest of a still centre amidst tumult: in effect, a drowning scene above ground.

Acclaimed at the time, a prize-winner in Cannes, sixty-four years on the film is as fresh as ever. How well is it known now? Nobody should miss this, as if Chekhov had lived decades longer into a very different world and caught it as exactly as he always did.

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Bound

Life at a Junction

(Edit) 09/08/2021

A twenty-minute movie which lasts rather longer. Portmanteau, circular plots have long appeared on the screen and in recent times given a vogue by Pulp Fiction. With Bound(also known as The Power of Few, 2013) director Leone Marucci traverses a dramatic New Orleans automobile smash five times, victims and witnesses' lives overlapping.

Among these is somebody holding up a shop counter, a stolen Vatican shroud, an attempt to find illegal goods, a break-out upon a terrifying motorcycle - and two Beckettian hobos (including a very hairy Christopher Walken) who guy a police officer much as the felines did the one in Top Cat. All this takes place to a soundtrack so pulsing that it appears on the point of bursting its artery (blood is a familiar commodity throughout).

Any film could look far different if its camera angles had been differently chosen. The effect of Bound coming at the incident time and again is much like a butterfly's wings causing a typhoon somewhere else on the planet. One small act of kindness could have prevented all this from happening, which leaves on wondering whether that would necessarily have been for the best.

Top Cat was a cartoon, and, in many ways, so is Bound. The characters, including Christian Slater, do not have much opportunity to be anything than, at most two dimensional but the way in which a simple story becomes a plot brings them all a greater interest than would otherwise be the case. Whether it would stand up to a second viewing – let alone five of them – remains to be seen.

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A New Leaf

Matthau in Manhattan

(Edit) 05/08/2021

Half a decade before Annie Hall there was Henrietta Lowell. Who? She was played by Elaine May in a A New Leaf (1971), a film which she also directed and wrote its screenplay from a short story by Jack Ritchie.

If anything, here is a woman even more ditzy than Annie. As such, she falls prey to the ever-brilliant Walter Matthau, a man who had twice as many facial muscles as most of us. He is Henry Graham (is this an in-joke about Graham Greene's first names?), a man so improvident that, despite an apartment which seems to sport a Rothko, he has used up the capital and income of his trust fund. His attorney (a brilliant turn by William Redfield who died far too young after coming to wider attention a few year later in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is less forgiving than his man-servant. Here, then, is a Jeeves-and Wooster set-up. Except that Wodehouse's prose could never find a counterpart on screen. Here, though, George Rose (an English actor who should have been better known) is as adept as Matthau at facial expressions which say so much more than words as his employer's follies continue to land them in it.

Elaine May is a rich, naïve botanist whom Matthau hopes will be his salvation, especially if he can bump her off a discreet while after the wedding has taken place. An old plot, of course, but given such fresh momentum here that one so wishes she had directed more than four films.

(Of course she was clobbered by Ishtar, which is in fact very watchable.)

There is not a moment wasted in A New Leaf, its visual gags matched by the verbal ones (a fern plant deserves a credit of its own, as do Elaine May's Hockneyesque spectacles).

How to convey the spirit of this terrific film without giving too much away? Well, the opening scene finds Matthau looking anxious, close up, while a screen appears to beep at a hospital bedside. The news turns out to be good, and the camera pulls back to reveal that the patient is... his much-troubled sports car.

That sets the tone for a film which should not be missed. It bears out Edmund Wilson's journal entry about seeing her on stage in a famed cabaret turn with Mike Nichols. “She is extremely handsome, with powerful black eyes – probably passionate and strongwilled.”

As for Matthau, it is a sign of his brilliance, he would soon after appear in a very different take upon Manhattan: The Taking of Pelham 123.

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One Exciting Night

Bring Out your Bedheads

(Edit) 01/08/2021

Vera Lynn and espionage are not subjects often thought to go flag-wavingly hand in hand. That is to reckon without her third, and final, film One Exciting Night (1944). This was directed by Walter Forde, whose skills often turned around both comedy and thrillers - and, what's more, given his music-hall upbringing, he had a relish of the stage.

All of these elements come together in the seventy minutes of this wartime yarn. It finds her caught up in a plot by which an English government official (Donald Stewart) has brought back to London from Lisbon a rolled-up Rembrandt drawing sent there for safe keeping but now sought after by a bunch of well-heeled thieves whose base is a Piccadilly apartment knee-knockingly high above a night club.

The light and shadow of the film's cinematography, whether beside a railway station's cloakroom or beneath a theatre's stage, is a model of effective contrast. Here is no White Cliffs propaganda but entertainment of sufficiently high order to remind viewers that central to civilization is a relish of all its variety.

As such, the film's military nurse Vera Lynn finds herself given songs suited to a small club's audience – and she handles them so well. She has panache, she has humour – and there are moments when it reminds us of those well-staged situations in which Jessie Matthews had found herself.

If no masterpiece, One Exciting Night remains a joy eighty years on. And it has an undoubted classic scene in which Vera Lynn sings through a truck's megaphone to urge one and all – above and below stairs – to bring forth their earthly goods for recycling. The proffered goods make the charity shops of our era appear a model of restraint.

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This Man Must Die

A Teenage Nightmare

(Edit) 26/07/2021

Somewhere, in another Dimension, Cecil Day Lewis must feel rueful every time that, across the Universe, he hears himself described as Daniel Day Lewis's father. And there were perhaps times, on this soil, when he felt similar chagrin at his thrillers and detective stories, published under the name of Nicholas Blake, being preferred to the work which would, none the less, bring him four years as the job of Poet Laureate.

These novels, which began with the mid-Thirties prep.-school setting of A Question of Proof, invariably turned around the sleuthing skills of Nigel Strangeways, inspired by the crumpled figure of that decade's dominant poet W.H. Auden (himself an enthusiast for detective fiction, as was another, older poet Herbert Read). One might have thought that these novels could have been filmed as they appeared. Perhaps his affair with, and marriage to, Jill Balcon upset that influential cinema family. At any rate, the film industry is always fickle. Only one of the novels has appeared upon the screen: The Beast Must Die, a title of Classical precedent. As a film, it first surfaced in, of all places, early-Fifties Argentina and most recently, this year, in an English television series (yet to appear on disc).

Over fifty years ago, and towards the end of Day Lewis's lifetime, it became a notable work by Claude Chabrol as Que la bete meure (1969). We are in provincial France, where a young boy is walking home from a fishing expedition to his widowed father (Michel Duchaussoy) only to be killed by an automobile whose crass driver (Jean Lanne), while shouting at the glamorous woman (Caroline Cellier) at his side, speeds away without any witnesses to the bloodied corpse.

The father is left in a void of diary-keeping grief which sets him upon a trail serendipitously aided by a nearby farmer. Much ensues from that. By way of almost-Bunelian social satire (a fraught household whose country-house fortune turns around a huge automobile repair workshop) we are drawn into cliff-edge and ocean-bound revenge drama.

Here is not the stuff of rapid editing (although one ducks when watching the yacht's sails head this way); Chabrol, as so often, is alert to the well-nigh sedentary way in which horror reveals itself.

For all its antecedent life in print, this is a film which exists in its own right – and keeps one guessing long after the end. We must hope for more Blake on screen – including the back-stabbing world of publishing that is End of Chapter.

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One, Two, Three

Secret Formulas

(Edit) 26/07/2021

Graham Greene consistently praised James Cagney as “one of the most reliable actors on the screen; his vigour, speed and humour are just as apparent in The Irish in Us, a film to discourage a less hard-working and conscientious actor, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream”. Come The Sequel to Second Bureau, he lauded “the lightweight hands held a little away from the body ready for someone else's punch: the quick nervous step of a man whose footwork is good: the extreme virtuosity of the muted sentiment”. And in The Oklahoma Kid there is “nothing Mr. Cagney can do which is not worth watching. On his light hoofer's feet, with his quick nervous hands and his magnificent unconsciousness of the camera, he can pluck distinction out of the least promising part – and this part has plenty of meat”.

Again, of Each Dawn I Die, Greene lighted upon that nervous quality, and it is writ foot-tappingly large in the very title of Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961), a two-hour film carried by Cagney's increasingly manic performance as a harrassed Coca-Cola executive who has holed up in the West Berlin office while harbouring hopes of the plum London job.

Adapted, very loosely and yet tightly, by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond from a Molnar play of three decades earlier (and with a dash of Wilder's own 1939 screenplay for Ninotchka), here is another instance of life catching up with art. While Wilder was directing it in Berlin - Brandenburg Gate and all - the Wall sprang up suddenly and some scenes then had to be shot in Munich. Could word of this film-in-progress have brought orders from Moscow to erect that concrete hulk?

Cagney has his eye on the Russian market, negotiations begin with three stooges redolent of those in Ninotchka while he contends with German staff who insist upon clicking their heels at every turn while the deskbound staff rise to their feet at his every entrance. This is office life rather different from that of The Apartment, although there is a winningly-done affair with a secretary (the fetchingly comic Liselotte Pulver) while his wife (Arlene Francis who blends politeness with well-judged jaundice) hankers for the family's return to suburban Arkansas.

With material enough already for a farce which verges on the screwball, it goes up several notches when the family is asked by the company's Chairman to look after his teenage daughter (Pamela Tiffin) who has been sent on a European tour after striking up four engagements within a few months - and proves to rank midnight encounters higher than, well, tiffin.

Wilder and Diamond wanted to make the fastest-paced film ever. Laugh at one joke, and you might miss the next one as the bizarre logic of it all traverses the borders of a divided city. Coca-Cola appears to have acquiesed in the use of their name as an emblem of corporate ambition and internal tyranny – trumped by the publishers of “Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Polka-Dot Bikini” sanctioning the repeated use of that disc by Communist police to break down the spirit of one of their own whom they take to be a spy (one suspects that André Previn, who adapts classical music throughout, did not have a hand in that).

Difficult to pluck lines from it out of context; one reinforces the other while there are visual gags galore (with an interesting emphasis upon balloons and an adroit instance of table-dancing with flares which a violinist does his best to ignore). Cagney's footwork is again good (and be sure not to miss him in Yankee Doodle Dandy, a title echoed many times by the office wall's cuckoo clock, which becomes a significant part in the plot's twist).

In these long months when the world's borders have presented other challenges, here is diversion which has one hooting in delight. One wonders whether Graham Greene, with his well-known wariness of America, saw it. Cagney would again have won him over.

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Black Widow

Ginger - and a Dash of Chilli

(Edit) 21/07/2021

“People like that don't commit suicide – they're far too busy.” The title Black Widow might lead one to expect a square screen framing black-and-white scenes most of which take place after dark. This 1954 film is in Cinemascope, the camera panning from side to side of large swanky Manhattan apartments whose furnishings are offset by copious sunlight. From one of Hugh Wheeler's mysteries (written as Patrick Quentin), this is a well-upholstered whodunit with no sign of a holster, just the shadow of a body hanging from a bathroom ceiling.

Van Heflin, a Broadway producer, is married to Gene Tierney who leaves town for a while to look after her ailing mother. Reluctantly, he goes to a party given by a neighbour in the block, none other than a Ginger Rogers who is currently in one of his productions and given to greeting many with an insult while her bag-carrier of a husband (Reginald Gardiner) looks on despairingly. Seeking fresher air, van Heflin goes on the balcony (some of the backdrops do not travel that well to Hollywood), and there encounters Peggy Ann Garner, a leopardess who, at twenty, hides her spots while going in for the kill while climbing the ladder of ambition with her typewriter (a sentence which could need editing but that might risk giving too much away).

And so he takes her out for some food more fortifying than Ginger Rogers's things on toothpicks, and, before long, suggests she can use his apartment by day as a writing retreat while his wife is away.

An innocent mid-life crisis?

Detective George Raft has his doubts. Some might call all this stagey, though it might not work on stage. Whichever, it is entertaining, not least with the brief turn of a cleaning lady played – almost Monty Python-fashion - by Cathleen Nesbitt who, some four decades earlier, had been in love with Rupert Brooke.

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Without Reservations

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(Edit) 18/07/2021

Think of John Wayne and there come to mind a big gun, an even larger hat and quite possibly a horse. So how, in Without Reservations (1946), does Claudette Colbert fit into such a scenario? Dodge City is hardly the place for a best-selling author. No, this is only a Western in the sense that she is heading West, to Hollywood, upon a sleeper train to discuss the filming, with Clark Gable and Lana Turner, of her highly-regarded book which turns around new hopes for human society.

As the title suggests, she has to make do with lesser sleeping quarters upon a crowded train, which brings her into the company of Wayne, a no-holds-barred, plain-speaking kinda guy whom, despite initial, er, reservations, she realises would be perfect to portray her novel's hero on screen.

She cannot pitch this notion to him directly as she is keeping herself incognito. Much, but not all, of the film takes place aboard the train – one with a dining carriage, a far cry from today's forlorn trolleys (where even those still exist). Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, long adept at fast-moving movies, the dialogue is snappy, with frequent reference to a matter of concern to one and all; that is, “bananas”: no, this is not a health matter but slang for dollars.

Banana can have another slang meaning, if you get my drift – and perhaps that is hinted at it the film's final, lingering screen-filling shot; but this is not the place to reveal that; watch this is, and enjoy the good time with which Claudette Colbert is synonymous, in the nicest possible sense of the phrase.

Oh, and do not blink or you will miss Cary Grant showing that is is a thoroughly good sport. He was born with the twinkle in his eye which he deploys to good effect here. A gentleman can be judged by his eyebrows.

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