Film Reviews by CH

Welcome to CH's film reviews page. CH has written 87 reviews and rated 90 films.

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Boys in Brown

The Lesser Escape

(Edit) 19/10/2020

Before his film career began, Dirk Bogarde appeared on stage. Boys in Brown (1949) gives one a glimpse of that - after a fashion. He is one of a group of young men joined in Borstal by well-meaning but weak Knowles (Richard Attenborough) who is invidiously persuaded against his better judgment to join in a pointless break-out. Part of their cover is a production of a scene from Julius Caesar which is shown in gym-room rehearsal and upon the stage - where the Ides echo to Bogarde's reasonable attempt at a Welsh accent (which makes one wonder how Shakespeare sounds with an all-Welsh cast).

Written and directed by Montgomery Tully, who soon became a prolific director of B-movies, this is in something of the manner of those made by Basil Dearden who treated social issues in a liberal, sometimes wooden manner. Here is a Governor (Jack Warner) who is at pains to emphasise that he has his charges' best interests at heart but, when trying to inspire them to look ahead, finds himself forever up against spirits soured by upbringing and experience (there is an interestingly brief sub-plot - potentially a film in itself - about his attempt to persuade a now well-married, clip-voiced woman, with a child glimpsed upon a garden swing, to give a home to a son whom she last glimpsed as an illegitimate infant sent out for what proved to be drunken fostering).

Well-filmed, whether in close up (the inevitable telephone) or long shots of the prisonesque establishment, with some fine night-time moments when a raid upon a wardrobe goes horribly wrong (watch it to see what that phrase means), here are eighty minutes which transcend their origins as a play (which had also been shown on television). Other well-known figures provide a turn, including a brief one by Thora Hird as Attenborough's mother - and one of the opening moments' hoodlums who landed getaway driver Attenborough in it was... Clive Dunn, he of that number-one song “Grandpa” which should have brought him, the children's chorus and all who purchased it a long stretch with no remission.

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The Happy Prince

For Ready Money, Sir

(Edit) 14/10/2020

What is it that makes one return to familiar tales? Time and again, a book appears about, say, The Beatles; one knows that it will probably not add much, if anything, to all those chronicles that have previously sat upon one's lap, and yet, and yet. Perhaps it is a return to childhood, when repeated readings of a book were demanded of one's parents. That is an apt observation to make, as it happens, of The Happy Prince (2018), for it opens by turning a variation upon the equally much-told life of Oscar Wilde.

He is sitting beside a bed in a Chelsea house and reading the eponymous fairy tale to his two young sons (they straddled an era: one died in the Great War, the other lived until 1967: “All You Need is the Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name”).

With which, its cuts away to a cross-Channel ferry at Dieppe in 1897, two years after the author had been consigned to two years' hard labour in Reading Gaol, a glittering career snuffed. Here, in a film written and directed by Rupert Everett, as well as featuring him as Wilde, one finds him during the two years before he expired in a cheap Paris hotel.

This is promising. So many accounts of Wilde pall after his three Trials and his incarceration. They were certainly dramatic. And yet so much happened afterwards. His eagerness to meet again his wife Constance (well depicted here by Emily Watson), his fatally succumbing again to Lord Alfred Douglas, the allure, in free-and-easy Naples, of youths whose trousers fall to their ankles for a consideration.

What is so often overlooked is that Wilde could have been on the cusp of a return to creative fervour. Not only was there his great Ballad, but he sold the outline for a play which one wished that he had written himself - and he set about crucial additional dialogue for the first published edition of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Naturally, textual emendations - a man sitting at desk with a pen - would hardly be the stuff of a gripping film, but this one lurches far, far, too far in the opposite direction. Blink, and the scene has shifted several times, which would surely be to the bewilderment of those who have no idea who Robbie Ross might be.

Here, amidst contemporary techno music, with suffocatingly dramatic lighting - whether in seedy hotel or music hall -, is Wilde as pop video. One would not be surprised if Elton John's “I'm Still Standing” blasted from the soundtrack (and one suspects that Wilde would have enjoyed its well-muscled video).

For all this, we could yet find a sequel. There is no doubt that Rupert Everett makes a great Wilde, the best on screen. One should like to see him directed by somebody else: as the Wilde who, in Worthing during the summer and autumn of 1894, was at work on Earnest in the company of his family while trying to accommodate visits from Douglas - and enjoying trysts on the seashore which, observed by agents acting for Douglas's father, would be re-played in the High Court soon after that play had been briefly acclaimed as the masterly depiction of the subterfuge to which Wilde awoke day after day.

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The Counterfeit Plan

Pressing Charges

(Edit) 13/10/2020

How many people on Earth at any one time might be watching The Counterfeit Plan (1957)? Perhaps few, but, as is the way with such films, it has stayed around. Sixty-three years on, it keeps one's attention from the start as a horse and wagon block a French country road as part of a plot to spirit condemned murderer Zachary Scott by aeroplane to the Sussex countryside, where former forger Mervyn Johns has a startlingly large country home in grounds large enough for that 'plane to land.

Scott wants more than a bolt-hole. He is keen to pull a new, huge scam. This was not the time of izettle and contactless cards. And fivers were large, with only somebody of Johns's skill able to match the devices by which the Bank of England tried to stay ahead of the hoodlums.

Ably directed by the wonderfully-named Montgomery Tully, who was adept at making a small budget look bigger, the machinations are followed in close detail as the network of “associates” takes in the whole country, with the camera focussing on the area around Brighton station as spivs convene as well as such fronts as poolhall premises for other discussions.

All of which is to reckon without a pretty woman, and the return of Scott's distracting desires. No time to pause, everything runs more smoothly for the viewer than those hurtling about the country under the delusion that they would never have it so good.

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The Incident

Token at the Flood

(Edit) 08/10/2020

TOKEN AT THE FLOOD

From the very first moment, this thriller - set upon the mid-Sixties New York subway - makes one gasp.

Having fully expected it to be in that era's garish colour, one thrills to find that it turns out to be in wonderful shades of noirish black and white as, gone midnight, sundry people - mostly couples - head towards stations to coincide upon a train which is bound for 42nd Street.

Among these are a pair of low-life pool-hall jerks ( Martin Sheen, Tony Musante) who have, after hours, stabbed a man in an alley after finding that he has only eight dollars upon him. As they now see it, their task is to taunt those among whom they find themselves in the carriage as it hurtles, clangingly, onwards while a supine drunk is as oblivious to it all as the infant clutched by a couple who have fretted over the likelihood of their being able to afford the upbringing of another one. Meanwhile, mindful of such a turn-up to events, Donna Mills has been fearful of surrendering her virginity to the self-styled alpha male who, strapped for cash, has tried to take her on a station bridge; and it's not all youth, for here one finds the glorious Thelma Ritter who gives her weedy husband a hard time, as does Jan Sterling who - in long legs upon perilous heels - is equally disappointed in hers; and Brock Peters, part of a Black couple, has a chippy attitude, first seen when trying to buy a twenty-cent token, which had dismayed his pragmatic social-worker wife (who endeavours to read a History of Western Art during this fraught journey). Also present is a gay man who appears to have propositioned a doctor - also aboard - whom he had encountered in a late-night bar's lavatory. And, as if this were not enough, here are two Army men, one of whom, from Oklahoma (Beau Bridges), has a month's sick-leave as an arm is in plaster.

This might bring to mind The Taking of Pelham 123 a few years later. The difference is that those above ground have no idea of what is happening as the carriage clatters along while the two thugs, one equipped with a knife-blade, pounce upon the passengers in turn and, in effect, call upon them to address their own inadequacies (one should not reveal too much, but nobody can be surprised when Thelma Ritter lets face-slappingly rip at her husband's cowardice).

All this was brilliantly realised by director Larry Peerce who had worked on a minimal budget from Nicholas Beer's script which had first been aired as a television play. Although those origins are evident, here is a film whose hurtling, close-packed second half is well anticipated by its depiction of the varied places whence all these people find so hard a perch upon a subway's metal bench, so curiously overlooked by a poster which proclaims, “Work With The Mentally Retarded. The Pay is Great”.

How does one gauge a film's renown? Well, I have never heard anybody mention it, but I shall urge it upon one and all. Here is as much a sleeper as that sozzled fellow (who gets the closing shot) and the child: in a fascinating thirty-minute extra, Peerce reveals that, understandably enough, she was kept from much of the filming - and reveals that Thelma Ritter, not somebody given to improvisation, was inspired to do brilliantly within that carriage. What's more, Peerce's confidence was shaken at a preview when, behind him, a couple saw that the film would be in black and white - and left there and then. They missed a treat.

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Rome Express

Corridors of Evil

(Edit) 06/10/2020

Journeyman. The word is often used disparagingly, when in fact it denotes adapability and skill. Such was the case with Walter Forde, who began his career on the music-hall stage, turned to acting in silent movies during the Twenties before becoming a scriptwriter in Hollywood and returning to England to make two decades' worth of films which catch so much of the country's spirit through tumultuous times while never being less than entertaining.

Signs are that people are waking up now to the tremendous achievement of Rome Express (1932). This has a fair claim to be the first of the train movies (although Forde had made a now-lost 1931 version of The Ghost Train, to which he returned at the end of the decade). A huge set was constructed, in England, to resemble the Gare de Lyon, where the events begin but most of it takes place upon the train, through whose windows one glimpses the passing European countryside by night and day. This was film from a compartment on the actual train and then projected beside the suitably claustrophobic stage set, all locked compartments and bustling corridors, with the enviably well-appointed dining car offering scant relief from the diverse machinations of those aboard.

Here is a film driven as much by character as steam engine. From a story by Clifford Grey, the script was developed by Sidney Gilliatt, soon to become a great force in British film-making. The mainspring of the plot is that a gloriously evil Conrad Veight knows that somewhere aboard the train somebody else has concealed a stolen van Dyck - and he wants it, so much so that human life is a side issue in that quest. For all that, one's unslackening interest is maintained by those who, unwittingly, become entangled by this. Here, for example, are an adulterous couple chanced upon by a golf-club bore known to the husband, who has to fake a passion-quelling excuse; a philanthropist businessman travels with a male assistant upon whom he lavishes nothing, a penny-pinching nature at odds with the headline-seeking reasons for his donations; there is a silent actress - all tight dress and long cigarette-holder - and her cigar-chomping publicist who promises that arrival in Rome will bring her career new directions; and more, these carriages populated by Cedric Hardwicke, Joan Barry, Hugh Williams, Esther Ralston. Gordon Harker, Finlay Currie. The smallest part fits into a well-meshed whole, all of it caught so well by Gunter Krampf's cinematography which owes something, but not too much, to German films of the previous decade. As Graham Greene noted when watching a revival of it three years later, “Mr. Conrad Veight and Mr. Donald Calthrop brought to the screen a devilish ruthlessness and a mean cowardice which even the trivial plot about a stolen picture couldn't cramp”.

Extraordinary to think it was made ninety years ago (Forde lived until 1984). One can imagine the gasps from those who filled a cinema - though we have something they never imagined: not only a DVD but - if you buy the disc - a splendid booklet by Neil Sinyard about the film's creation. Rent it but, afterwards, you are sure to want a copy yourself, and continue invite people round to share it: they will not be disappointed.

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The King and Four Queens

When You're Good to Mama...

(Edit) 05/10/2020

One might well imagine that, after the midwife slapped Clark Gable into life, he did not cry but had that twinkle in his eye which he so often did in films where a woman takes his charm amiss - as happens in The King and Four Queens (1956). Directed by Raoul Walsh, this Western sticks to one location, Wagon Mound, a compound near a small, remote town, but it has all the pace for Walsh is renowned, as well as his sense of place and subtle cinematography, here realised in beautifully bright colour, whether this be the landscape or an array of dresses.

Fine dresses - and, indeed, tresses - in such a spot? The script is by Margaret Fitts, from her own story, and a far cry from her lumpen adaptation of John Meade Falkner's Moonfleet the previous year. When fetching up in town (the start of so many a Western and a thriller), Gable heads to a bar and, on emerging, encounters a man who is delivering a gravestone to Wagon Mound. It is the latest one for which a widowed mother has saved up, her funds derived from hens and their fitful laying of eggs.

Ma (Jan Van Fleet) had four sons, three of whom died while stealing $100,000. Another survived, and she lives in hopes of his returning to claim the hidden loot. Also on the premises are the men's four wives/widows, all under the thumb of Jan Van Fleet - her thumb beside the trigger to ward off anybody who comes close to this run-down house, and its tower is home to a warning bell.

In the years since the robbery, the widows, among them Eleanor Parker, have become - how can one put this? - frustrated. Their craving for flesh is only kept in check by the thought that chastity could be rewarded with cash when the survivor returns. When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you...

An inch the other way, and Gable would not have made it to the front door. As it is, he is patched up, a matter of a bare chest for a while, and even the rifle-packin' Mama is not immune to his blandishments. As moonlight works its wonders, Gable switches from a hymn upon the organ - in an opulently run-down sitting-room - to a hoe-down and, as the sultry turns salty, the air is rife with innuendo which could have sprung from the other side of the Hays Code (I shall not quote any of it - this is all the better in context, and sure to bring a smirk even to the po-faced).

A new angle, perhaps, on something which was called a women's picture. They certainly hold the fort, literally and metaphorically.

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Bellissima

Stars in the Eye of the Needle

(Edit) 05/10/2020

“Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle!” With those three words, Mrs. Temple successfully encouraged her daughter to do her best in front of the cameras. This is a world away from Coward's Mrs. Worthington who is advised that her offspring has “a loud voice, and though it's not exactly flat, / She'll need a little more than that / To earn a living wage” (in cabaret versions, he sometimes added a final, salty verse). Both come to mind in watching Visconti's Bellissima (1951), which followed Obsessione and La Terra Trema in his early Neo-Realist phase.

It opens, however, in the full-operatic mode with which he is often associated. A radio broadcast is underway of Donizetti when it is interrupted with the announcement that a film studio is seeking a young girl, around the age of seven, to appear in a film. Auditions are being held and some will then have a screen test.

Small surprise that the scene cuts to the outside of these Roman studios, and, as the camera pans across the hordes of children (none of whom look into it), the noise level grows, and does not cease for another couple of hours. Upon the screen for most of the time is Anna Magnani, forever in black, as, ever excitable, she scrimps to provide her daughter (Tina Appicella, in her only film) with a dress, haircut, photograph to boost her chances, all this kept from her husband (Gastone Renzelli) who sits around, Kowalski-fasion, in a gross vest while dreaming of building a house far from this tenement whose balconies echo with the cries and calls of so many frustrated housewives while films are sometimes shown in the garden to the delight of star-fixated Anna (who is smitten with Burt Lancaster).

All moves at a pace, its script by the prolific Suso Cecci D'Amico (she also worked on Bicycle Thieves and The Leopard), with enough detail of film-making not to distract from such things as a spiv (box-office star, Walter Chiari) who fleeces Anna Magnani of savings garnered through her rest-of-the-day job which finds her traversing the city to plunge a hypodermic into male and female buttocks to ease diabetes - a process which finds yelps scarcely muffled by pillows.

Perhaps only Rocco and His Brothers would come close to the bravura style of this Visconti film, in which he was aided by the young Rosi and Zefferelli (both of whom recollect its making in a half-hour documentary on the DVD, along with Suso Cecci D'Amico, who was to die at close on a hundred). Visconti, with The Damned and Death in Venice, is often described as “painterly” in his use of colour. Here, though, as in his other early films, the black-and-white cinematography catches the diverse locations in a way that feels more accurate than colour would have been. A sign, perhaps, that here is something which draws you in, the pause-button redundant.

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Whirlpool

The White Shoes

(Edit) 01/10/2020

“Yes, they are men - and you're not the only woman!”

Juliette Gréco has reason on her side. Aboard a large freight barge - the Clementine - upon the Rhine, she upbraids the Captain's needlessly jealous wife (Muriel Pavlow).

That said, the Captain's wife, did she but know it, has equal reason to be suspicious, for Juliette Gréco is on the run from a criminal, money-laundering lover (William Silvester) who, in the meanwhile, has shot dead another man while trying to find her. A sign of his callous nature is when, along the way, a waitress, says to him, eyelids fluttering, “I am going off at eleven” and he replies, “you've been going off since you were eleven.”

Adept as all the cast might be (including the Captain, Marius Goring whose wild hair has something of the Gene Wilder about it), it is Juliette Gréco who tops the bill (and sings, in English, over the opening credits). One might more readily picture her holding a microphone in a boite than a ship's wheel at the blaze of noon; moreover, her only black clothes are a briefly-glimpsed nightdress; for the rest of the time - though she does hangs a black bra on a washing line, which must have set many a 1959 heart aflutter - her long legs are encased by blue jeans in a film whose shifting river background is filmed in Eastmancolor. And yet it works, she carries a film whose ninety minutes are rarely without her on screen.

The opening moments are the classic stuff of fast-paced shoot-out but, upon the water, the pace slows without one's interest ebbing, and, indeed, gasping at the very end - even after the river has turned briefly red. As for the shoes which herald this review, they are in fact clogs, which are quite possibly the last garment on earth in which one would have imagined Juliette Gréco. How that comes to be – well, see for yourself. And if its director Lewis Allen is not a name on many lips (he worked mostly in television), never forget that he had made one of the paciest thrillers, Suddenly (1954) in which another singer, Frank Sinatra delivered another surprising on-screen appearance.

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Moonlighting

Life and Plaster

(Edit) 29/09/2020

There have been surprisingly few films about building work. Even if there had been more, it is likely that Moonlighting would still rank highly among them – indeed, as one of the best depictions of life's undertow in the flashy Eighties. Written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, who had also, a decade earlier, depicted a rundown London in Deep End, here is a claustrophobic take upon the white stucco of South Kensington.

Led by Jeremy Irons - in a far cry from the previous year's Brideshead Revisited -, a gaggle of Polish workers have arrived to work at a cut-price rate on a flat, that pay set to go much further when they return home.

That is the sum of it. Much of the dusty proceedings - the collapse of lath-and-plaster walls – are accompanied by the voiceover of Irons's internal monologue (he is the only one who can speak English) as the schedule slips and funds go so short that, in order to afford materials, he has to shoplift their food. Many a scene takes place in a small-scale supermarket (tills upon which the price of every item has to be tapped in by a weary cashier), and never does the suspense weaken as one wonders whether he will outwit the polyester-suited manager and his assistant whose very birth probably saw a crease of disdain upon her face.

Here is a film which holds the attention, with Irons - the thinking man's Nigel Havers - as good as he was in Reversal of Fortune. Little recalled is that an early appearance by him was in Simon Gray's play The Rear Column, which has rather fallen from sight but could have the makings of a fine film as intense as this one.

Fitting, all the more so now, to think how much British film has owed to Europeans.

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The Missing Postman

A Postman's Round

(Edit) 19/08/2020

“He's on a bicycle - you've got a Vauxhall Astra!” So a Police inspector (Jim Carter) is told irritably by a superior, several days into a case in which the eponymous The Missing Postman (1997) has pedalled into the sunset - and been sighted in far-flung spots.

A theme of this film, made for television by BBC Scotland, is that everybody is at the mercy of somebody above them, each level of employment as insecure as the others: people are always looking over their shoulders, fearful.

Matters come to a head for the postman, wonderfully played by James Bolam (who looks rather different in spectacles). He learns from a man in a middle-management suit that he is not being fired but should take early retirement: OCR scanning is being installed for sorting, despite its inability to cope with enclosed paperclips while, surreally, lights flash as the machinery stops when encountering anything addressed to Peterborough (to sort this out requires a visit by a specialist from Swindon).

Bicycling postman are no longer wanted either.

At news of this, his wife (Alison Steadman), seen from behind, leaps forward in the bath as she wonders how they will cope. She is a nurse, but is first glimpsed as her legs straddle the eaves of their house while busy with a re-tiling job, enviably undaunted by the scaffolding at her side.

This is rich stuff, no scene lasting long, a world so much encapsulated in eighty minutes that one might take it for Alan Bennett in an Ealing mode. In fact, it was adapted by Mark Wallington from his novel, and it has something in common with his popular accounts of travelling through England with his dog. The postman, on his last day, finds that - by some fluke of new technology - his bag contains letters destined for other parts of the country. Perhaps inspired by borrowing a book about the Pony Express from the local branch library, he decides not to return to the sorting office but to hand them over in person.

And so it comes to pass that he misses out on the formal farewell (a strippergram, Nicola Burbridge announces that he if he is not back in the next five minutes, she is off as she has to collect a child from school: that is contemporary England in a sentence). As it is, he discovers a bucolic England when truck-dominated roundabouts give way to Gloucestershire's country lanes - all of it gaining from Debbie Wiseman's music which is redolent of Meoran and Vaughan Williams, with sojourns in pubs bringing new meaning to a postman's round.

Farce is balanced by the poignant, with a wild turn as the Daily Mail takes an interest in the fugitive (just as it later did in those two Tamworth pigs who made a bolt for it). And one hoots with joy as a young girl informs the police inspector in no uncertain terms that his crass arrival has ruined her open-air birthday party.

In these uncertain times, here is something to restore faith in the human spirit; it is as fresh as it was almost a quarter of a century ago, when cellphones were distinctly larger.

How I wish that I had seen it before now, and so could have told James Bolam how much I enjoyed it when I met him during a gathering at Petworth House about climate change. A good man, much more than a likely lad.

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The Orchard End Murder

Something Wicket This Way Comes

(Edit) 06/08/2020

Apples were harmed in the making of this film. Such a note could have been included in the credits of Orchard at Murder End (1981). That might sound a frivolous comment to make of something which turns around murder by strangulation but this fifty-minute drama - mostly set in 1966, as summer ends, in the vicinity of a cricket match in an idyllic Kent - was intendedly lightly.

Written and directed by Christian Marnham, who had shunned his family's farming life for one as film editor who turned to commercials, it was made on a minimal budget and found continuing life as the second feature when various all-out gory films worked their way round the circuits. Its title means that one is not giving anything away: Tracey Hyde (best known for Melody), in a Louise Brooks hairstyle and a splendid black-and-white dress, agrees to go with a fellow in a sports car to the village where he is in the cricket team. Their only previous meeting was to neck in a car park. She is keen for more, and is chagrined when a romp in a field is broken off so that he meet his destiny on the pitch.

Taking the hump instead of a hump, she wanders about, and chances upon the cottage of a stationmaster (Bill Wallis) whose garden gnomes so attract her attention that she accepts an invitation to tea by a man whose oddness is outdone by that of his handsome lodger: Clive Mantle in a first appearance which heralded a prolific television career.

Suffice to say that while strolling in the orchard she succumbs to a deep kiss but shies from more, the price for which is death upon a huge heap of surplus fruit.

To adapt the Song of Songs, this is discomfort me with apples. It is simultaneously grim and yet unreal (the murder was filmed at eighteen frames a second to bring out the jerkiness of such a death). Within this short film there is much going on, it is as absorbing as it is unsettling: a glowing England with autumn imminent.

The British Film Institute's DVD comes with droll interviews, including one in which Tracey Hyde makes light of long submersion, her naked body pressed against the apples with, out of shot, a drainpipe attached to her face for air. Such was life before computer-generated imagery.

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A Cottage on Dartmoor

Another Razor's Edge

(Edit) 30/07/2020

A decade separates Anthony Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) from his wartime thriller Cottage to Let. With the latter he had become what is known as a dependable director, faint praise incarnate, a polite term for stagebound (we still await a good film version of The Importance of Being Earnest: his attempt handbagged Wilde's play).

To go back to A Cottage on Dartmoor is something else. The title is misleading. More of it in fact takes place in a barber's chair, a blade silently swishing - so much that one almost suspects that there is a pie shop next door. Murder is indeed likely to be on the menu, for sinister obsessive Uno Henning is smitten with Norah Baring, a manicurist on the premises who prefers the attentions shown by a burly customer, farmer Hans Schlettow.

That is the essence of the plot, a variant on one which has done service down the ages: the love triangle - there should have been a Greek playwright called Isosceles. What makes all this so absorbing is Asquith's continual use of light and shadow, camera angles which owe much to Expressionism, that look in the eye which, without sound, denotes terror itself. A set piece is a visit to the “talkies”. Ironically, the sound section of this film is lost, but it is is fascinating to watch the close-ups of a pit-band orchestra: the strings are as taut as the emotions shown by those three adults who have shown up in the audience while two schoolboys' affectation of bravery in the face of on-screen horror serves them ill.

Strange to think that it was a decade in which prose and poetry had taken new forms while film was still in its early stages, and yet silent images remain far more a part of Modernism than the early talkies.

Would that a version of The Waste Land had been filmed in the London and Europe of the Twenties. Perhaps it could yet be done.

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Transsiberian

THE SENSE OF A BEGINNING

(Edit) 30/07/2020

All too often writing about film is a matter of statistics (opening-weekend grosses, Asian sales). To compound that offence, it is none the less worth noting that Transsiberian (2008) - written and directed by Brad Anderson - had a brief cinema release at the time. Since then - as, one might say, a sleeper - it has accrued a wide audience on disc, although one can imagine that the scenes inside and without the eponymous railway carriages would look all the more remarkable on a large screen.

Not that this belongs to the picture-postcard school of film making, for it is driven by a strong sense of character from the opening scenes. Somewhere in Russia, at the water's edge, a dead body is found, the evidence of departure: a knife in the back of the head. What's more heart rending to those around is that a cupboard no longer contains what was evidently a great wad of money.

Ben Kingsley, in a grim turn as a police inspector, is set to take up that case. All of which one might soon forget as the scene cuts to the refulgent air of a happy-clappy religious school in Bejing where Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer have been volunteering as part of a worldwide journey.

Such is Harrelson's geekish penchant for railway engines that they are taking the train to Moscow as part of a return to suburban life in America (all of which contrasts with Emily Mortimer's highly-charged, freewheelin' past). Anybody familiar with British commuter lines can only marvel at the well-appointed and affordable dining cars to which passengers make their way along corridors which, naturally, will become perilous.

Here is homage to many a film set upon a railway, something which mixes mobility with the narrow locales in which, perforce, strangers meet and reveal more of themselves than they are aware. The heavy wood panelling brings to mind rash pub confidences as the couple talk with Kate Mara and the alluringly rough Eduardo Noriega (who prompts Emily Mortimer to recall earlier dalliances) .

Something is underfoot - one might say, underrail. This is no charabanc ride. Enigma multiplies. A week is a long time in crime. Just when you thought it safe to go back in the carriage, with a freight of a suitcase of those dolls whose heads come away to reveal another within.

Human heads are also likely to come adrift (this is not Rome Express and The Lady Vanishes), but it keeps above the cartoonish, a fit depiction of the Slavonic criminal world and the unexpected limits to which others can have recourse when stumbling into it).

Is one moved by it? Perhaps not, and yet it is something more than bland entertainment. Needless to say, here is another bravura performance by Ben Kingsley, but it is a film with many a twist to an actor's face: bespectacled, every mother's son, Woody Harrelson duly drops his guard (and spectacles) when needs must.

With an ever-moving camera (including the one used by Emily Mortimer), here is a film - continually switching points of view - which stays with you even longer with you than a points failure outside Etchingham Junction.

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Frantz

THE EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE PIECE

(Edit) 28/07/2020

Pause, and one realises that anybody who worked on, say, Casablanca or The Third Man could screen in their minds a film different from the one familiar to us. That is, they saw the colours of sets and clothing. Not that this is to crave “colorising” (the vogue for which appears to have passed). Such films were designed with their splendid black-and-white imagery to the fore.

Similar has been done with Ozon's Frantz (2016), most of which is set in 1919 and appears to us in black and white. It appears in keeping with a small German town where much of the events turn around a graveyard, apparently the last spot for a soldier killed in the war. The plot is simple - and complex. To say more would spoil it, as would any discussion of the graveyard in The Third Man.

In grief for the soldier, her fiancé, Paula Beer visits the grave as usual and is surprised to find flowers on it. They have been put there by a visiting Frenchman (Pierre Niney). Discussion ensues, and is welcome - not least because it distracts from a tedious man who is pursing her with an eye on marriage.

The film is a marvel to watch, its rhythm finely paced to bring out all the conflicts within and between the characters (including her parents), so much so that the small town smoulders.

Only one thing is missing. Lubitsch's 1932 film Broken Lullaby, from a play by Maurice Rostand. It is currently unavailable. Whoever has the rights in it would surely do well, for those who enjoy Frantz will want to seek out its inspiration.

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Make Me an Offer

Come to Dust

(Edit) 24/07/2020

Dead at sixty, Peter Finch had appeared in many films. If not enough of them are memorable, such high points as No Love for Johnnie and Sunday, Bloody Sunday make one look at others with some expectations. So it is with Make Me an Offer (1955), and here is, at most, a curiosity.

Directed with scant flair in variable, sometimes strangely bleached Eastmancolor by Cyril Frankel, who died recently at 95 after working mostly in television, it sprang from a play by Wolf Mankowitz whose film A Kid for Two Farthings appeared the same year. In his time, Mankowitz was well known for depictions of East-End life - and must always be esteemed for his work on The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) with Val Guest.

Here, though, is something whimsical - partly realistic, partly broad comedy – with forty-year-old Finch who spurned the chance to follow his father into life as a market trader but struggles to make a go of life in the perhaps more exalted calling of an antiques dealer. Turnover is never sufficient to buy his wife the fur coat she craves. All this was brought about by a childhood visit to the British Museum where he was transfixed by certain objects - and haunted by a newspaper report of some sculptures stolen and never recovered. Events now take him to a country-house auction. In a cottage on the land lives Sir John (Ernest Thesiger) who is visited in turn by various relations, such as the giggling gamine, Adrienne Corri. The plot is of the slightest (and involves a crucial dog), with the main interest being some ten minutes of the auction itself. That is, apart from Thesiger who never rises from the armchair in which he mostly slumbers noisily - and when he does awake, he is never able to utter articulate words. This is a brilliant performance, with a radiant moment when he smiles. It more than compensates for the implausible sight of Finch in an apron while wielding a feather duster.

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