Movie Diary 5/30/2018

I Lived with You (Maurice Elvey, 1933). This film provides a good long look at Ivor Novello, the famous composer-writer-actor, upon whose play it is based. Novello is a blithe Russian who claims to be a prince, despite the fact that he’s living on the streets as the movie begins. Taken in by a middle-class family, the Russian inflames the household with his airy pronouncements and hifalutin’ manners. It’s a funny, sneakily subversive film, played to the hilt by a lively cast that includes Ida Lupino and Jack Hawkins. Novello is a riot, with crack timing and a confident presence; his breeziness is liberating, and some of his patter is Groucho-worthy. About a year after this he left movies to concentrate on the stage. Too bad – just having him onscreen for five minutes demolishes the idea that we should take any of this nonsense seriously. A rare gift.

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Movie Diary 5/29/2018

The Sea Shall Not Have Them (Lewis Gilbert, 1953). Four members of a downed RAF plane loll in a liferaft while a determined-but-luckless Air Sea Rescue boat searches for them in the English Channel fog. Very effective all the way around, with a sterling cast and crisp forward motion that brings it in at 91 minutes. It’s one of the postwar British films that paint the war effort as far from flawless – there are stupidities and ineptitudes on display. But mostly it’s a well-run suspense film about keeping calm (especially as regards one nervous survivor) and carrying, you know, on. The men in the raft include Michael Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, and Bonar Colleano (Canadian military in this one); piloting the rescue boat is Anthony Steel, and Nigel Patrick has a juicy supporting role. Playing the seasick medic on his first trip across is Ian Whittaker, an actor who specialized in youthful roles before becoming an Oscar-winning set decorator and art director. I met Ian when I was giving lectures on a cruise ship a couple of years ago, and enjoyed hearing his moviemaking stories and sharing Christmas Eve dinner (and New Year’s Eve too, once my wife had joined the cruise). He could have made a long career as an actor, but things seemed to work out nicely for him. The Oscar was for Howards End.

Movie Diary 5/28/2018

The Passionate Thief (Mario Monicelli, 1960). This was two years after Monicelli did Big Deal on Madonna Street, a consensus comedy classic that I do not find all that great. But oh, this film: Not only hilarious in an incorrigibly escalating way, but directed with a shot-for-shot sense of how the camera can layer the funny pieces atop each other. It’s set on New Year’s Eve in Rome, where various idiots try to enjoy the long evening. Anna Magnani (in blond wig) is a movie extra, as is Toto, the latter drafted into partnership with a suave thief (Ben Gazzara, dubbed); they step on each other’s intentions throughout a long night. Fred Clark pops up periodically as a boorish American with money. There are Germans, who seem a little to quick to line people up against a wall and shout “Schnell!”, plus jokes about La Dolce Vita, which had opened a few months earlier (apparently it was already famous for inspiring people to jump into fountains). Magnani is great, and Gazzara seems to be in good humor about the whole thing. The newly-restored print looks fabulous (screened at Edinburgh Filmhouse).

Movie Diary 5/27/2018

Lots of movies on the UK channel Talking Pictures. Not all of them great. Here’s a few less-than-classic titles.

Floods of Fear (Charles Crichton, 1958). If you wondered what Howard Keel got up to after his musical films – and I know you did – here’s something. Keel and a seriously depraved Cyril Cusack are chain-gang prisoners who escape into a giant flood, only to get stuck with a wounded prison guard (Harry H. Corbett) in the gradually-crumbling home belonging to Anne Heywood (future co-star of The Fox). Crichton, who made The Lavender Hill Mob, does a spiritied job of keeping the various implausibilities and unpleasantries moving along, and the movie actually looks really good – the flooded soundstages are compelling, and cinematographer Christopher Challis, who cut his teeth in the Powell-Pressburger world, finds a variety of dynamic angles from which to shoot the action. Keel spends most of the picture with his shirt off, and broods very well. Okay, this one is pretty good.

Time Lock (Gerald Thomas, 1957). Despite its can’t-miss premise, this is a hilariously inept dud. A boy is locked in a time-coded bank safe that can’t be opened by normal means, so a group of bank managers, welders, and construction workers try to bash their way through the walls. Director Thomas and screenwriter Peter Rogers went on to do the Carry On series, which is scarcely funnier than this (seriously, the Airplane! guys might’ve used it for inspiration). The dialogue is made of stone, and based on a play by Arthur Hailey, who would eventually write Airport. Robert Beatty plays the most Leslie Nielsen-like of the authorities, and Sean Connery is one of the welders. It’s set in Toronto.

Sky Liner (William Berke, 1949). Did somebody say Airplane!? Here’s an early air thriller, a spy number with sleepwalking slab of beef Richard Travis as an FBI agent aboard a Constellation, trying to find the traitor in the passenger manifest. Rochelle Hudson and Steven Geray are also in there. The flight looks very comfortable, and the restroom, where a great deals happens, is roomy. Pretty terrible, but not without pleasure.

The Limping Man (Cy Endfield, credited to Charles De La Tour, 1953). Endfield had been blacklisted and was in the UK at this point. The set-up is fine, with American Lloyd Bridges visiting London to reunite with a wartime flame, Moira Lister (from Once a Jolly Swagman); she’s a wild thing, and one of the interesting touches here is how cool Bridges is with the reality that she’s lived an adventurous life in his absence. There’s murder afoot, too. There’s some lively location shooting and small roles for Rachel Roberts and Jean Marsh, the latter apparently playing a kind of proto-beatnik. Then the ending – hoo boy.

Solo Beast (This Week’s Movies)

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Alden Ehrenreich, Solo: A Star Wars Story (courtesy Lucasfilm)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Solo: A Star Wars Story. “If the resulting film isn’t as zesty as The Last Jedi, it at least provides a solid night of thrills and chills — which was what George Lucas’s original Star Wars was supposed to be about, anyway.”

Beast. “The premise is a little like Nicholas Ray’s great film noir In a Lonely Place (1950), where we watch Humphrey Bogart begin a romance with Gloria Grahame while he’s under suspicion for murder—except that Beast shows us the dynamic from the female perspective.”

Another page from “Seasoned Ticket,” my blog series for Scarecrow Video. This one’s devoted to Hong Sang-soo, whose new film The Day After plays at the Northwest Film Forum this weekend. Read it here.

 

Movie Diary 5/23/2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018). The Han Solo backstory, which I can say I didn’t care about, but didn’t mind, either. Important point that the film being made by the Lego Movie guys before they were fired might have missed: Clint Howard is in here. Although they might have cast him anyway, come to think of it. (full review 5/24)

The Day After (Hong Sang-soo, 2017). Another good one from the prolific Mr. Hong, this time with less of the alternate-universe-parallel-lines and more straightforward storytelling – but only on his own terms.

Movie Diary 5/21/2018

The Brain Machine (Ken Hughes, 1955). A straight crime picture with an odd title – it refers to the EEG used by the protagonist-physicians. The movie’s got a strong portrait of a smart, independent female doctor (the sterling Elizabeth Allan) who leaves her loyal but workaholic husband (Patrick Barr); he’s also a doctor. She’s kidnapped by psychopath Maxwell Reed, who almost certainly has something wrong with his head. An enjoyable enough ticking-clock exercise, though a little less feminist in the end than it seems at the beginning. Screenplay by director Hughes, who ended up directing Sextette and the slasher flick Night School.

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Inner Sanctum (Lew Landers, 1948). Connected, I guess, to the book and radio series of the same title, but it’s not one of the Inner Sanctum B-movies made by Universal earlier in the decade. Just a weird little indie with a very routine story about a killer (maybe accidental killer) holing up in a small-town boarding house for a night. Leading man Charles Russell is a drip, although Lee Patrick and Mary Beth Hughes provide some useful support. The only good thing is the wraparound story, where a spooky gent on a train (Fritz Leiber) tells our tale to a young woman, with big-time mysterioso results. One of the film’s producers, Walter Shenson, went on to produce A Hard Day’s Night and Help!