SJH’S FILM REVIEWS Part 3 H-L
A work-in-progress, Part 3 H-L:
HALF LIGHT (2006)
Dir: Craig Rosenburg
Elegant ghost story, in which Demi Moore plays a bestselling author who suffers tragedy when her son drowns in the river outside their house. Grief-stricken, she relocates to the Scottish coast, setting up home in an impossibly idyllic, isolated little cottage (ah the days when you could use a manual typewriter, and not have to worry about Broadband connection). She starts to be haunted by sightings of her little boy though, and it seems he wants revenge on her. You will either love this film, or suffer from a feeling of “meh”. I fall into the latter I’m afraid. I loved the scenery, AND there is a perfectly splendid lighthouse in it (which we are given a guided tour of, I was waiting impatiently for that moment), and Demi makes a sympathetic lead, but the rest of it felt too much like far too many modern romantic novels I’ve tried to read. We even have a hunky, hairy Scotsman as the lighthouse-keeper, who exudes sweet little smiles, and gentle self-deprecating humour … and don’t get me started on the fiddle-playing locals. But I don’t want to criticise it too much, as plenty will love it for all these reasons. The lighthouse incidentally isn’t in Scotland at all. It’s on Anglesey, North Wales.
THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992)
Dir: Curtis Hanson
Nauseatingly perfect middle-class American family, complete with adoring black gardener, hire the Nanny From Hell. Serves ’em right.
THE HAUNTED (1991)
Surprisingly good TV film from 1991 about the alleged real-life haunting of the Smurl family. Have seen this film dismissed by others as not very frightening, but I found the scene where Mr Smurl is assaulted by a demonic woman quite unnerving. Better than The Amityville Horror anyway.
THE HAUNTED CASTLE (1896)
Dir: Georges Melies
Running at only 3 minutes long, this sure packs in a heck of a lot of story in that time. It’s great fun. Some men in Elizabethan costume, strut around a set doing a lot of gesturing and expostulating. In return they are menaced by a big bat wobbling about on string, a skeleton, and some veiled women brandishing broomsticks. Well worth checking out. Even in 1896 they were spoofing the old bats-and-vampires stuff of gothic horror. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I wish some modern film-makers would learn this skill of packing plenty of story into just a few minutes air-time.
THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1908)
Dir: Segundo de Chomon
Made in 1908, this 6-minute quickie is a fascinating and very odd little number indeed. Highly surreal, and feeling like a very weird dream, the plot concerns three – frankly grotesque – clown-like characters who arrive to spend the night at a haunted house. A picture comes to life, a bread-knife cuts a cake by itself, a ghost manifests in a sheet, furniture vanishes as you’re about to use it, and the entire house picks up and slides about like the Crazy House at a funfair. It ends in a way which makes you wonder what the director had been drinking the night before! The use of stop-motion film-making is always highly effective, even in this day and age. Once seen, never forgotten, viewing this six minutes of very early cinema is quite an experience.
THE HAUNTING (1963)
Dir: Robert Wise
I first saw this at a very impressionable age, and was completely spooked out by it. It also left me with a lifelong fascination for haunted houses. Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel The Haunting Of Hill House, the plot centres around a neurotic young woman Eleanor (played superbly by Julie Harris), who is invited to take part in a psychic investigation at an immense, gothic mansion. There she meets up with Dr Markway (the suave Richard Johnson), artistic Theo (elegant Claire Bloom), and young Luke (chirpy Russ Tamblyn). In some ways Luke is the complete innocent of the group. He’s the only one there who has absolutely no interest in the supernatural, and is there solely to keep an eye on his inheritance. He provides some much-needed pragmatism to the boiling intensity of the other three characters. And oh boy, is there intensity. Eleanor has a naive crush on Dr Markway (who is married, feisty Lois Maxwell also pops up as his sarcastic wife), and Theo is getting the hots for Eleanor. Talk about It’s Complicated. Poor old Luke is left bemused by the lot of them. As for the spooky effects, well this film should be proof that you don’t need constant slam-dunk noises and blood pouring out of the walls to scare the viewer. There’s the creepy face in the wallpaper, the frightening nocturnal crashing noises, the sinister chalk writing on the wall, the spiral staircase which unscrews itself from the wall, the door which seems to breathe and press inwards by itself. And dig the dinner-table scene, now this is ghost-hunting as it should be. Smoked salmon mousse on fine china. Shaken-and-stirred cocktails. Blimey, you can keep your infrared camera’s and EVP recordings, mate.
THE HAUNTING (1999)
Dir: Jan de Bont
Words fail. Of all the pointless, trashy remakes in film history this one has to rank as one of the worst. “So why did you watch it then?” there is probably some pompous snot-rag asking right this moment. Well, partly macabre fascination, as I’d read all the reviews slating it, and partly the house. This is the one thing the film actually gets right. The house in this is truly impressive. I think the exterior shots were filmed at the splendid gothic pile Harlaxtan House in Lincolnshire. The interiors are great too. At one point a character shouts “Charles Foster Kane!” on seeing it, and it does remind you vividly of Citizen Kane’s monstrous mansion. Where it goes wrong though it goes wrong big time. All the spooky stuff which made the original such a rightly-regarded classic has been jettisoned in favour of endless, stupid CGI special effects, which would only be impressive if you were 4-years-old, in which case you might think it’s a particularly exciting episode of ‘The Teletubbies’. Characterisation is also chucked out of the window. Catherine Zeta-Jones is in the Claire Bloom role, but instead of Theo being an interesting, sophisticated bohemian, here she’s just a spoilt brat whose main interests are probably footwear. Talk about dumbing-down. FFS.
THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972)
Dir: Elaine May
The original US version from 1972, staring Charles Grodin as Lenny, a sports equipment salesman, who is gets married to Lila (Jeannie Berlin), only to find himself falling drastically for another girl (Cybill Shepherd) whilst on honeymoon in Miami. This film is a delight in many ways. Jeannie Berlin is very funny as Lila, a girl whose only faults are that she has some mildly annoying habits. Nothing too serious, just things like getting egg salad on her face whilst she eats, getting sunburnt easily, and demanding reassurances when they’re making love. Enough though to convince our hero that he’s made a terrible mistake in marrying her. His fears are confirmed when he meets beautiful young Kelly, who, being sassy, sophisticated and athletic, in fact is everything poor simple Lila isn’t. Lenny takes the drastic decision to dump Lila on their honeymoon and pursue Kelly back home to Minnesota, much to the horror of her granite-faced father (a superbly funny Eddie Albert). Considering the subject matter, this film could so easily have been very annoying, but it’s not, it’s both funny and painfully poignant in turn. Charles Grodin also manages the awesome task of making Lenny likeable. TRIVIA CORNER: apparently it’s Graham Linehan’s (creator of Father Ted) favourite film. Just thought I’d throw that in for no reason whatsoever.
Dir: Tim Fehlbaum
I know I’m not the only one who wishes directors of apocalyptic movies would be more careful about what year they’re setting their film in. All too often they set them barely a couple of years hence, so that the film has a limited shelf-life to say the least. It’s almost as if they’re saying “look no one can envisage the world in 2140, or even 2080 any more, so let’s set it the year after next. So what if the film will be out-of-date before it’s even barely released!” Made in 2011, ‘Hell’ is a good case in point. It’s set in the year 2016. The sun seems to have gone berserk, and has burnt away our ozone layer, so now the entire planet is bathed in a dazzling white light, turning everything to sun-scorched desert. No one can go outside without covering up all their flesh and wearing big goggles … actually scrub that, only one character seems to go in for all the protection stuff, others wander around in skimpy, sweaty vests, faces uncovered. A man and two women are travelling somewhere in a battered old car. The car may look pretty cruddy, but it’s actually amazing, as it seems to give them all the protection they need against the cruel and merciless sun. I love the idea of apocalyptic movies, but all too often the execution of them is pretentious and pompous. This one is no exception. And it is so damn SLOW!! It is ponderous in the extreme. I often find these days that car adverts seem to be disappearing up their own bums with pretension, and this film feels like an extended car advert. I also have a problem with apocalyptic movies which begin AFTER doomsday has happened. It means you’re robbed of all the exciting build-up. You also don’t get a chance to get to know the characters in danger and care about them, or see how they’ll adapt with their lives completely changing. You’re left with a small group of people whom you don’t know from Adam, who seem to be lumbering about in a wasteland scenario, but you don’t know why or what’s happened. Oh pfft. Life’s too short for all this.
HELL DRIVERS (1957)
Dir: Cy Endfield
Gritty no-nonsense British film, starring Stanley Baker as an ex-con who gets a job as a truck-driver, and finds himself under pressure to deliver the goods in double-quick time. Featuring an all-star cast, including Patrick McGoohan, Herbert Lom, Sid James, Gordon Jackson, and William Hartnell (almost unrecognisable from his more familiar Dr Who incarnation) as their unscrupulous boss. It may be old, and made in black-and-white, but the scenes of manic driving round the country roads are still nerve-wracking. Makes Ice Road Truckers look like a bunch of hairdressers.
HENRY & JUNE (1990)
Dir: Philip Kaufman
It may sound like the title of a sitcom, but Henry And June is the story of the three-way relationship between Anais Nin, Henry Miller and his wife June. I quite enjoyed this film, and think it was well-made, but I can also accept all the criticisms I’ve heard about it, such as that 1930s Paris looks like something out of a Gene Kelly musical, and that the characters are too selfish to care about. I think part of the problem, for me anyway, is that Anais (spot-on Maria de Medeiros) is such a tiresome little brat. She has a handsome, devoted husband (Richard E Grant, loveable), and yet yearns after old bald-headed chain-smoking Henry (Fred Ward at his best), who has all the charm of a grumpy old sod who’s come to fix your boiler. All we hear is Anais whingeing about her life, which – let’s face it – is pretty darn good. Devoted husband, lovely house, freedom to do all her writing. But oh no, she wants sexual adventure, the little minx. It’s an enormous credit to Maria de Medeiros that she actually makes this self-indulgent brat LIKEABLE! Uma Thurman puts in a full-on earthy performance as Henry’s drawling wife June, who decides she wants to break through Anais’s prissy exterior and give her a good time. It is genuinely erotic in parts (usually the bit with Anais in a see-through lacy dress looking pensive), but also laughable. Take the scene where Henry and Anais are having a bit of rumpy-pumpy in the kitchen whilst the saucepan bubbles over on the stove! It’ll be trains rushing into a tunnel next.
THE HOLIDAY (2006)
Dir: Nancy Meyers
This film seems to be permanently on around Christmas-time on British TV. It’s an amiable rom-com about two women, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, who decide to swap homes for the holiday season. Winslet gets to luxuriate in Diaz’s sophisticated Hollywood home, whilst Diaz gets a simple cottage in the English countryside. After a few hours Diaz is bored and wants to go home, BUT then unexpectedly Jude Law turns up at her front door, and the situation changes somewhat. This film gets nothing but lurve from Twitter when it’s shown, but although I can see why it’s liked, it leaves me a bit cold. To be fair, chicklit films aren’t really my thing, but even aside from that there’s one scene which irritates me time and again. Diaz is stocking up on goods in the local village shop, swigging from a bottle of red whilst doing so (the locals all seem to have a Disney-fied Jolly Yokel feel about them, you just try boozing from a bottle in a British shop before paying for it!!), and then DRIVES HOME! Bah! Drink-driving laws anyone? This is a thoroughly Hollywood view of Britain, the sort that I naively thought had died out long ago. Plus I am one of the few women on the planet who can’t stand Jude Law. There’s just something too horribly smug about him.
HOLIDAY CAMP (1947)
Dir: Ken Annakin
Hi-de-hi! Black-and-white post-war Brit comedy, made at a time when the the craze for holiday camps was taking off. Very much of it’s time, and these days that is largely it’s interest – to see Brits holidaying in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. Many of the characters have a recently-demobbed feel to them, and it’s amazing how many speak with plummy voices, considering they’re meant to be working-class. The main family are the Huggetts, who were to appear in a few films at this time. Personally I find the Huggetts an acquired taste. Jack Warner as the father is a crashing bore, and Kathleen Harrison’s dithery old mum act gets on my nerves. The other characters are more interesting. Flora Robson as a spinster who is experiencing life for the first time, and trying to trace an old love. Esme Cannon manages to be loveable and non-irritating as a ditzy woman who is desperate for a man. A dark touch is added by the presence of a serial-killer, which somewhat casts a shadow over the film’s Wholesome Family Entertainment feel. Apparently this was done in the aftermath of the Neville Heath murders. Heath was a sexual sadist who preyed on lonely women around Britain. It does give the film a slightly odd feel.
Dir: Ursula Meier
Intriguing Swiss drama. A family live by the side of a motorway which has never been finished. As such, they have a pretty charmed life. Playing games on the abandoned roadway, and setting up a home-cinema to watch films on it. All that changes dramatically when work renews on the road and the motorway is finished. Suddenly their lives become a nightmare. They have a bloody great motorway right at the end of the garden. It’s now nigh-on impossible to walk to school, and when there’s a traffic jam, they have to put up with complete strangers roaming round their garden and into their house. The family retaliate by barricading themselves into their home. I guess the obvious thing is to read this film as a parable of modern life. No privacy, constant noise, discourteous strangers constantly in your face, and not being able to walk anywhere. Normally I shudder at the thought of remaking good European films, but I’d love to see a Brit version of this, though I suspect it’d be more of a broad farce.
Dir: Frank Lloyd
Largely known these days for being Clara Bow’s final film. Made in 1933, Clara plays a ballsy fairground dame. The legend that the film ruined Clara because the audience didn’t take to her Brooklyn voice has now been discredited. Clara’s voice wasn’t a problem, it was more that she herself wasn’t at ease with the talkies. She said she found them limiting, doing away with action to concentrate on words instead (can’t help thinking of Norma Desmond: “we didn’t need words, we had FACES”). With her mop of red curls and her feisty attitude, Clara is terrific as always, but she looks far older than her 28 years here. At the risk of sounding bitchy, quite middle-aged. This might be partly down to the fact that she’s playing a blowsy character anyway, but as a weary Clara says in the film “Ah go and lay an egg”. At the end though, when she does her little dance, she is fabulously endearing.
HORROR EXPRESS (1972)
Dir: Eugenio Martin
Ah the golden age of rail-travel. Polished wood, lace curtains, smoking jackets, and fine china in the dining-car. Just a shame about the 2 million-year-old hairy monster stalking it, sucking out people’s eyeballs. This is a stylish Brit/Spanish horror from the early 1970s. Set aboard the trans-Siberian railway, the film boasts a range of characters worthy of an Agatha Christie novel. An anthropologist, a doctor, his wisecracking American assistant, a glamorous spy, an aristocratic couple who are really a pair of high society swindlers, and a Rasputin-style monk. Marvellous. Christopher Lee plays the anthropologist, who is transporting a creature whom he believes is the Missing Link back to civilisation in a packing-case. Bad idea. Anyone who comes into contact with the creature has their brain and their eyeballs sucked out. Peter Cushing is on hand to be the voice of sanity, and Telly Savalas crops up as a dashing Cossack leader … although you have to wait a good hour before he appears. This is an elegant film, like a horror version of ‘Murder On The Orient Express’. Great attention to period detail, where you can bask in the wintry glamour of pre-1917 Russia.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)
Dir: Jimmy Sangster
Usually regarded as distinctly sub-standard late-Hammer fare, and yet, it has Ralph Bates in it, so that makes it OK by me. It’s not brilliant by any means, and the series was showing distinct signs of tiredness. Bates does his best as the Baron, but he’s hampered by a dull script, which at times barely even tries to go through the motions. The ending is very flat indeed. Having said all that though, I still watch it when it comes round late night on the Horror Channel. Did I mention it had Ralph Bates in it?
HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)
Dir: Arthur Crabtree
I found this Online, but as soon as I read the description I had to come out again. You see, it’s the one with The Binoculars Scene in it. This is the clip that is shown in the film ‘Peeping Tom’, and it scares the living daylights out of me. A woman peers through a set of binoculars which have spikes in them. By looking through them, she blinds herself. I wasn’t brave enough to watch this. I put it here for your information only.
HOSTEL II (2007)
Dir: Eli Roth
I was more impressed with this film than I was expecting to be. I’d heard about how violent it was, how it was the worst kind of trashy, exploitative horror, and normally a film showing graphic torture wouldn’t be my cup of tea. BUT it had an interesting story, characters that weren’t too irritating (something of a novelty in modern horror), and it kept me watching. Three young American women are travelling across Europe. Eventually the quiet, bookish one amongst them (Heather Matarazzo) is abducted, and hung upside down before being tortured by a mad old bint called Mrs Bathory (geddit?), played by Monica Malacova. I watched this soon after reading Amy Cross’s horror novel The Cabin, and it had the same kind of vibe. It isn’t a comfortable watch, and won’t be for everyone, but it was better made than I thought it was going to be.
HOTEL DU LAC (1986)
Dir: Giles Foster
I used to love this film, but I’ve gone off it of late. I think I just find Anna Massey too irritating these days. She wanders through the film, in shapeless grey clothes, giving knowing, supercilious looks to everyone. Anyway, the plot: Anna’s character is a romantic novelist who is in trouble for dumping her fiance on their wedding day. To let the dust settle, she takes off to a hotel on a Swiss lake, where she meets a varied assortment of other guests who are all much more interesting and likeable than her. Irene Handl is an eccentric, and very grand, French countess. Patricia Hodge is one of her typically posh characters, who suffers from an eating disorder, whereby she can only eat cakes. The best of the lot are the marvellous Googie Withers and Julia McKenzie, as nourveau-riche mother and daughter, who live for shopping and reading romantic novels. Denholm Elliot looks at a bit of a loss as the token man of the group, slithering round them all, trying to get attention. It’s still a good film, but there’s only so much I can take of Miss Smug Face In Grey.
THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK (1973)
Dir: Peter Sykes
Probably little known except to fans of the adorable Frankie Howerd, and/or early 1970s Brit horror. Our Francis is on top form in this marvellous send-up of the gothic horror genre, and it should be better known than it is. I’ve read some rather po-faced criticisms of this film, and I get the impression some people simply don’t know what to make of it. It’s quite creepy in parts, and yet the presence of Frankie tells us it’s a comedy. Well it’s not exactly the first time the comedy/horror boundaries have become blurred! Frankie is a Victorian ham actor, Foster Twelvetrees, who is invited to a remote house in the country to give a private reading. When he gets there he finds it peopled by a disturbing crop of eccentrics (including Ray Milland and the always-spooky Rosalie Crutchley). Yes, this plot does sound a tad familiar, but frankly I think it’s one that can get used again and again as far as I’m concerned. He isn’t there long before he gets the distinct impression that everybody’s out to bump him off! What I can’t get over with Frankie is that he can deliver the most banal lines and make them sound hilarious (“ooh this is your room is it?” “I had a packet of crisps on the train” “can I use your phone?”). He’s helped by the rest of the cast who play it poker-straight. There is a running gag of one man who keeps referring to him as “the swine”. This doesn’t sound much until you watch it and then it becomes very funny, as in “has the swine finished yet?” when Frankie’s giving a reading. It’s all quite Python-esque at times (no pun intended, even though snakes do feature here). I must say a word about the house used in this film. I think it was filmed near the Bray Studios, those stalwarts of the British film industry, and it ranks as one of my favourite creepy houses in cinema. Is there anything that lends itself to haunted house material better than late Victorian gothic?
HOUSE OF BONES (2009)
Dir: Jeffery Scott Lando
A Reality TV show, Sinister Sites, is planning to do a live broadcast from an old American colonial house which has a long history of witchcraft, voodoo and murder. The crew go to set up all their equipment, and that’s when awful things start to happen. I enjoyed the first half of this film. There was good characterisation (well better than I normally expect with this kind of thing), the story wasn’t bad, and some of the scares were pretty effective. Plus I loved the old house. The second half though is a mess. The power goes out so it seems to be just everybody stumbling around in the dark and getting killed. Confusion reigns. Which is pretty tough going on the poor old viewer, who’s trying to keep up with what’s going on. Ultimately, the whole thing felt a bit like a wasted opportunity. I was expecting the plot to be along the lines of Terrible Things Happen During The Live Broadcast. Sort of Ghostwatch style. The twist at the end made me think that perhaps it would have worked better as one of the old half-hour episodes from The Twilight Zone. The diva-ish TV presenter seems to have been put in for a bit of comic relief, but he disappears for large chunks of the film, and then only turns up again to get killed. Would have preferred it if we’d had him trying to hold the live show together whilst everything goes to pot around him. You could have had horror and farce mixed together then, which might have been something. But they went for Creeping Around In The Dark Getting Killed instead. C’est la vie.
HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH (1965)
Dir: Harold Daniels, Jerry Warren
This is one of those truly awful cheap-as-chips efforts from the 1960s, which feels as though it’s being filmed in an alternative dimension. It’s only of interest now for seeing Lon Chaney Jnr reduced to paying the rent by appearing in it, and for showing the obsession with devil-worship which California seemed to have at this time. (A year later, in 1966, Anton LaVey would start up the Church of Satan). The Satanic rites at the beginning of this film though are so unutterably dull and tedious that I’m amazed anybody bothers with this sort of nonsense for kicks! Please please, don’t EVER part with money for this, you will only regret it. My Internet connection crashed whilst I was watching it. For once, it didn’t bother me.
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Dir: William Castle
Vintage horror doesn’t come much quirkier or more bonkers than this. The devilishly handsome Vincent Price (camping it up in fine form) invites a selection of people he can’t stand to spend the night in his peculiar bunker-like house. The challenge is to see if they can survive until daybreak. There are some wonderful horror gimmicks in this film, which hark back to the pulp fiction of the inter-war years, such as the acid bath in the cellar, the mad old lady who seems to be moved around on casters, the ghostly face at the window, and the head found hanging in the wardrobe. It’s the blackest of humour, and the cast play it admirably straight, as they prowl around this Crazy House At The Funfair-type place. Price is marvellously watcheable, and although he’s playing an absolute rogue, he still manages to be quite endearingly charming.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)
Dir: Peter Duffell
Characteristically 1970s lurid title for what is in actual fact a fairly low-key Brit horror. It’s an anthology film, set around a house which is reputed to bring terrible misfortune on anyone who lives there. The house in question actually looks fairly non-threatening. I can almost imagine Kirsty Allsopp wandering around it and speculating where to knock down some walls to make a charming “rural retreat”. There are 4 stories to the film. The first, starring one of my favourite actors, Denholm Elliott, is the best (in my opinion), as it’s got a neat ending, strong atmosphere, and Elliott always gives good value. He plays a crime writer who becomes convinced that one of his murdering characters has become real. The second stars Peter Cushing as a lonely bachelor, who is still carrying a torch for a long-lost love. He pops into a local waxworks museum one day, and sees a statue of Salome, who bears a startling resemblance to her. The story frankly is silly, but Cushing carries it well as always. The trouble is, I think I was more interested in him and his lonely life, than in the horror element. The third story has Christopher Lee as an overbearing father who keeps his little daughter isolated. He hires a governess to look after her, but refuses to let her play with other children, or have a doll. This is a bit of a tedious story to be honest, with an old-fashioned Victorian air about it, although there is great interplay between the little girl and her teacher. The fourth story has a high-camp jokey feel, which can jar a bit after the previous stories. But, it does star the marvellous Jon Pertwee as a ham actor who rents the house whilst working on a film nearby. He is ably supported by the magnificent Ingrid Pitt. So all in all an uneven film, but that’s usually par for the course with anthology films, some stories will work better than others. I liked it, and would definitely watch it again.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009)
Dir: Tom Six
One of the most controversial films of recent years (although nowhere near as much as it’s sequel), The Human Centipede takes those two old stalwart plots of the horror genre (1) lost travellers seeking help at strange, isolated house, and (2) mad doctor carrying out human experiments, and produces one of the oddest films ever made. It’s not a comfortable watch by any means, and yet in its own warped way it works. The whole film taps into our nightmares. Finding yourself incarcerated in a remote house, at the mercy of an unfeeling madman, having your body surgically tampered with against your will. Dieter Laser is chillingly good as Dr Heiter, a man utterly depraved in his insane, egomaniac wish to create “a human centipede” by surgically attaching three people to each other, sewing them together mouth-to-anus. His three young victims, Ashley C Williams, Ashlynn Yennie and Akihiro Kitamura, should all be given credit for appearing in very difficult roles, to say the least. It says something about the power of this film that, after first seeing it, I was relieved to see the three of them looking well and happy at a film premiere!! The ending is highly disturbing. In some ways the film has entered the language. I now see references to “being the middle part of the centipede” when summing-up getting the lousy deal in a situation. Perhaps I should gloss over one Amazon reviewer who wrote “I want a human centipede too!”
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (2011)
Dir: Tom Six
I remember all the kerfuffle when this was first released. Of it being branded as one of the most disgusting, sadistic films of all time, and how it ended up on our Banned list here in Blighty. The publicity stills showing a frankly revolting-looking little man glaring goggle-eyed didn’t exactly help. And then it rolled round on the Horror Channel’s Xtreme Season, and I thought, perhaps because I’m trying to be A Serious Film Reviewer I should watch it. Well I’m glad I did, because it means I can legitimately never have to watch it again! This one is set here in Britain, and concerns a fat loser called Martin (Laurence R Harvey), who has a grim life. He works as a security guard, and lives in a repulsive little flat with his mum, where they’re tormented by a noisy thuggish neighbour. Martin is obsessed with the original Human Centipede, and has a dream to do his own version, only he wants to do one with a dozen victims, not just three. The first film was disturbing, and I thought that as a ground-breaking horror it worked. We had Dieter Laser giving one of the most frightening and chilling performances I’ve ever seen in a horror film, and we felt genuine sympathy for his three victims. With this one … the problem is that I ended up watching it thinking “well the actors here are certainly earning their fee aren’t they”, which kind of kills it really. To paraphrase Hi-de-Hi’s Ted Bovis, when he used to say “the first rule of comedy you must have reality”, well that pretty much applies to horror too. The first film played on all the age-old terrors of the horror genre, of the lost travellers seeking refuge at the house of a madman, of their bodies being tampered with by an insane doctor against their will. With this one we have a bunch of extra’s, rolling around naked, wailing, like something out of an old Hieronymous Bosch painting, only far less fascinating. It was sick, it was sadistic, but I didn’t find it frightening. More “what on earth is this nutty director going to make the poor sods do next?” I assume it was all shot in black-and-white because the endless buckets of red paint would have made it look even more absurd than it already was. And then we have Ashlynn Yennie, one of the stars of the original, being brought back in, in what felt like an extremely clumsy attempt at dark comedy. Is it the sickest film I’ve ever seen? Sorry Mr Six, but Salo stills hold that dubious top-spot. I understand he is now up to Human Centipede 4 (at time of writing). Can only hope that one day he manages to work this crazy fixation out of his system. Well as I said at the beginning of this review, I’ve watched it once, damned if I’m going to bother again. Life really is too short for that.
THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
Dir: Gary Ross
Phenomenally successful fantasy set in a dystopian future, where children, chosen by lottery, are pitted against each other in a battle to the death. Someone told me he couldn’t cope with this film, as he felt it could too easily come true. Personally, I wasn’t that unnerved by it, as it’s a very glossy, almost panto-ish film at times (which is absolutely fine), but not on a par with the scary, gritty dystopian thrillers I grew up with. I found myself watching it more as a clever satire on TV shows like ‘Big Brother’, ‘The Apprentice’, and ‘The X-Factor’. And that’s quite unnerving enough! (What on earth will future generations make of our obsession with Reality TV?). Well worth watching.
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE (2003)
Dir: Tim Fywell
It’s always difficult for a film to match up to a much-loved book, and this one was never going to be an exception to that rule. I’m so familiar with the book, that I can vividly picture the Mortmains’ castle in my head. The film has an admirable go at capturing the spirit of the book, and most of the actors are well-cast. Bill Nighy and Tara Fitzgerald in particular work well as James and Topaz. When I first watched it I didn’t rate the castle, feeling it was too much like something out of a fantasy film, but it’s grown on me. There has been some criticism that the American boys are too bland, but to be honest they’re like that in the book too. Their clean-cut wholesome American-ness is the contrast to the family of English eccentrics. I wouldn’t say this was a favourite film, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse, and the story does stay faithful to the book, which sometimes I think is about as much as you can hope for!
I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN (1975)
Dir: Peter Sasdy
AKA The Devil Within Her. What was it with all the demonic baby/child movies of this era? Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen. I mean, those of us who were children then weren’t that bad were we?! Anyway, this film should be a Must See for connoisseurs of truly awful movies. It begins with Joan Collins writhing about on a hospital operating table, whilst Donald Pleasence attempts to deliver her baby. Jaunty music plays while the lights above the operating table blaze in and out as though we’re all tripping out down the local disco. Or something. It doesn’t improve from there. Ralph Bates plays Joanie’s Italian husband. Now I love Ralph Bates. Whether he was appearing in Hammer Horror, or later in the TV comedy series, ‘Dear John’, he was adorable. But there’s no denying that his attempt at an Italian accent in this is almost as diabolical as the plot. Ah the plot. It turns out that Lucy (Joan) used to be a dancer in a nightclub. One night she spurns the advances of Hercules, a dwarf in a jester’s cap. Of course Hercules doesn’t take this lying down. He curses Lucy, and tells her that she will have a monstrous baby … possessed by the Devil himself! Cripes. This is all very sub-Omen fare. It’s far too ridiculous to be scary or disturbing. In fact, the most disturbing part about the film is the vinegar-faced nun who turns up (well there has to be a nun doesn’t there). It doesn’t help that we keep being told the baby’s getting bigger and bigger at an alarming rate, and yet he just looks like a normal-sized cute baby. If you love bad films, then watch it, but – as I’m sure you don’t need me to point out – there are far better Satanic Child movies out there. TRIVIA CORNER: a Twitter chum once told me that he used to work with the man who plays the baby in this. He was quite a nice chap apparently. Which is good to know.
THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE (1904)
Dir: Georges Melies
I bet you didn’t know this, but the early astronauts were in fact portly middle-aged ladies wearing long coats and straw hats … or at least they are in Georges Melies highly surreal movie extravaganza from 1904. Running at an epic 20 minutes long, the film chronicles a hardy group of passengers who embark in a steam engine to the core of the Sun. Entering through the Sun’s mouth, they find that it is somewhat warm there, so much so that the men have to take their overcoats off. After a bit of a conflab they sensibly decide to return home, and land back in an Alpine village, where they get a rapturous reception from all the locals in full peasant gear. ‘Bonkers’ scarcely does this justice. Try and track down the YouTube version which DOESN’T have the earnest voiceover talking us through it. It’s really not necessary.
THE INNOCENTS (1961)
Dir: Jack Clayton
This is the kind of film which makes doing this blog so worthwhile. I’ve never seen it properly before, mainly because it so rarely comes round on television these days, and I think the one time it did it was shown in the middle of the night, when I wasn’t in the best state to judge it! Words can’t do justice to what a fine film this is. It’s cinematic art at it’s very best. Based on Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw, the splendid Deborah Kerr gives a frighteningly intense performance as the disturbed Miss Giddens, a governess who is hired to take care of precocious children, Flora and Miles. Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the children are being haunted by the ghosts of two depraved servants, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Shot in eerily atmospheric black-and-white, the film often feels like it’s transporting us into another world, another dimension, (the scene the rose garden particularly). It often has a rich, dreamlike quality to it. One of the things that makes this film so unsettling at times is the fact that the ghosts often appear in broad daylight. The scenes where Miss Giddens sees Miss Jessel’s spectral form, at the lakeside and in the schoolroom, are truly frightening. Watching this now it struck me how quietly influential it has been. Surely Susan Hill was inspired by this to write ‘The Woman In Black’? I have no idea if she was, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I can also see it’s influence on ‘The Haunting’, another favourite of mine which was made a couple of years later, particularly the part where Miss G looks up at the tower. The scene where Miles kisses Miss Giddens was also the inspiration for Kate Bush’s The Infant Kiss, one of her strangest songs. There are so many ideas and layers in this film that we could analyse them all day, but everybody must take away their own ideas from it.
Dir: Norman J Warren
I have to be completely honest with you, I didn’t finish this film. I only began watching it because I read that it had been filmed in Chislehurst Caves, in Kent, which are so historic and spooky that I’m quite fascinated by them. But even they couldn’t hold me to this one. It seems to be a cheap Alien rip-off, whereby a bunch of people on a distant planet are being attacked by some creature below the planet’s surface. Now a low-budget shouldn’t hamper a horror/sci-fi film, as plenty of good ones have been made, BUT if you haven’t got the money for Hollywood level special effects, then you do need technical ingenuity, good actors and a high quota of Atmosphere. In this the acting is atrocious, and not even in a So Bad It’s Good way. Even velvet-voiced Stephanie Beacham, whom I was relying on to keep me watching, seemed to have removed herself mentally from the proceedings.
THE INSIDE (2012)
Dir: Eoin Mackan
A bunch of youngsters decide to hold their friend’s birthday party in an abandoned warehouse, and film it on their video camera (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). Whilst there a bunch of Irish vagrants break in and proceed to subject them to endless verbal and physical abuse. This is a dull and depressing film, which just seems to be full of men shouting and swearing, and girls weeping and screaming. The wobbly hand-held camera-work is annoying, and I quickly lost patience with it. I’m fond of the found footage sub-genre. I think there have been some genuinely imaginative contributions to it, and I also believe it’s still got plenty of life in it yet. But this just feels utterly pointless. It’s fine if you want to waste an hour-and-a-half of your precious one and only life watching boring people being thoroughly unpleasant to each other (we have Big Brother for that usually). One reviewer described it as “one of the most terrifying found footage films ever”. Well he’s entitled to his opinion, even if I do think it is absolute cobblers. I think the horror movie genre is going through an interesting time at the moment, with people attempting to do their own thing on shoestring budgets. They should be encouraged. But if every end result was as depressing as this one, I think I’d give up on it.
THE INTRUDER (1962)
Dir: Roger Corman
Mention the name “Roger Corman” and most of us will think of low-budget sci-fi’s, or Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Therefore The Intruder comes as quite a surprise. Made in 1962, it stars William Shatner as a professional trouble-maker, who arrives in a Deep South town to whip up aggravation in a place which is already seething with racial tension. This was powerful, hard-hitting stuff, and it doesn’t pull it’s punches. The dialogue can sound absolutely shocking to modern ears (and I’m not someone who recoils easily). Take an early scene, where Shatner checks into a boarding-house, and meets the genial little old lady on the reception desk. Suddenly she starts spewing the ‘N-word’ left, right and centre, and it doesn’t let up. Before we know it we even have the Klu Klux Klan riding shotgun with a giant cross. A very competent, no-nonsense little thriller.
Dir: Alan Bridges
Little known low-budget Brit sci-fi from 1966. A bunch of aliens in skin-tight rubber suits arrive on Earth by setting fire to a bush. One of them goes AWOL, and the others go off to look for him. The runaway gets knocked down by a car, and is taken to a cottage hospital. The other aliens pursue him, and manage to put a force-field around the hospital. Shot in black-and-white, this manages to be quite an atmospheric little number, and running at not much over an hour, it doesn’t exactly out-stay it’s welcome. It stars Edward Judd (from ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’), who is always good value.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
Dir: Don Siegel
“They’re here! They’re here!” Yes, this is it, the ultimate in Cold War paranoia manifesting in one darn good sci-fi. An all-American town seems to being plagued by an odd delusion, that people are no longer being themselves. They look the same, act the same, but something vital is missing. And then strange pod-like things are being found in greenhouses and cellars. It still manages to be quite chilling even after all these years, and the final scenes where the young lovers try to flee for their lives (souls?) is exciting stuff. The influence of this film can’t be over-estimated. The old Red Menace may no longer be with us, but when you think of the current fascination with the zombie-fication of Western society then it still packs a punch. Do we really want to sacrifice our individuality, our ability to love, and feel passion, just so that can live in a nicely ordered world?
THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)
Dir: James Whale
Classic movie from 1933, from the novel by H G Wells. Claude Rains (in his screen debut, although you don’t see him until the end) stars as a scientist who finds an ability to make himself invisible. Unfortunately, he can’t turn himself back again. Gradually his mind disintegrates. He’s high on the power that being invisible gives him, and at the same time panicking because he wants to be normal again. The special effects caused huge acclaim for the time, and they’re still pretty impressive now. Rains’s mad scenes are pretty disturbing. “Even the Moon’s frightened of me! The whole world’s frightened to death!” Let alone the scene where he goes romping down the street, wearing only a pair of policeman’s trousers, singing “Here we go gathering nuts in May!” Gloria Stuart is his girlfriend, wrecked with anxiety over him. Unfortunately Una O’Connor appears in one of her screaming old woman roles. She drives me nuts, but she’s a small price to pay for what is still a very good film.
THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)
Dir: Sidney J Furie
One of the best British spy films ever, and a fascinating little number. It was made as an antidote to James Bond, this time showing Secret Service workers as doing dreary desk-jobs and spending long tedious hours spying at people getting the milk in. Michael Caine is superb as the bespectacled Harry Palmer, who, when he’s not working for the Ministry, does a neat line in gourmet cooking and listening to classical music. Because of this film, I find it hard not to walk round some parts of Westminster and not envisage men in bowler-hats having furtive conversations on park benches. Comes complete with a superbly moody score by John Barry. TRIVIA CORNER: The Fast Show sent up this film in the 1990s with a long-running gag with Paul Whitehouse playing Michael Caine as a nosy neighbour.
THE IRON LADY (2011)
Dir: Phyllida Lloyd
I adore Meryl Streep. I think she is one of the finest actors of the modern era, and she always seems so wonderfully professional, and yet down-to-earth at the same time. When I heard that she was going to play Margaret Thatcher, I was delighted. So why does that sound like I’m leading up to a criticism? The main problem I have with this film is the constant peeing about between different time zones. It’s not a technique I like anyway, and in this film it’s very annoying. What was wrong with starting off with her as an earnest young woman, then onto her prime years, and then onto her sad old dotage? It also doesn’t help that Meryl all too often reminded me more of Jennifer Saunders than Maggie the Prime Minister! Having said that, she is brilliant when playing Maggie as an old lady. These scenes are the best part of the film. The problem with the film generally is that it’s largely been done far better elsewhere. The Long Walk To Finchley captured Maggie’s younger days with great verve and style. Likewise, The Falklands Play and Margaret covered her Prime Minister years very adequately. Also, as a Brit, I found odd things left out. The film does her St Francis of Assisi speech, when she first arrived at No.10, but misses out her howlers like “rejoice!” (where she badly misjudged the mood of the nation at the time), and “we are a grandmother”, which showed how she had finally lost the plot completely. Also, why leave out her troubled relationship with the Queen? You’re missing some great scenes with that one. It’s a wholly Hollywood view of the Iron Lady, which will satisfy American viewers, but leave Brits harrumphing and disappointed.
ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)
Dir: Terence Fisher
An island off the coast of Ireland has suddenly become plagued by a series of mysterious deaths, where people and animals appear to have had all their bones sucked from their bodies. Peter Cushing, as a top surgeon, heads off to investigate. This is an enjoyable little horror, sort of like a vintage Dr Who story really. The island may look more like the Surrey woods in parts, (the pub doesn’t look remotely as if it belongs on an Irish island!), but that doesn’t stop it from being very atmospheric. The scenes in particular set around the mysterious science laboratory work very well, (“good god, it looks like Wuthering Heights!”) and the monsters when they appear have an oddly graceful menace. Raven-haired Carole Gray does what she can in the token female role, although we have to have the obligatory hysterical scene. An absorbing and unpretentious little horror from the 1960s.
THE ITALIAN JOB (1969)
Dir: Peter Collinson
Often regarded as a highpoint of British cinema, and certainly a monument to Swinging Sixties coolness, ‘The Italian Job’ has earned it’s place in film legend, largely down to a superb car-chase through the streets of Turin, and Michael Caine yelling “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Noel Coward might make a somewhat improbable gangland boss, but he actually pulls it off splendidly, organising a bullion robbery from his prison cell. Strange thing though, it’s still splendid entertainment, but I don’t feel the same affection for it these days as I do a vintage Bond film. Perhaps that’s because it seems to get shown every Christmas, every Bank Holiday, and every time England are playing a major footie match!!
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)
Dir: Robert Gordon
Pretty much by-the-numbers monster b-movie from the 1950s. Men on a submarine in the Pacific Ocean detect a huge thing in the ocean’s depths. It may be responsible (of course it is) for doing away with swimmers and fishermen, and causing ships to go missing. It all culminates with a giant octopus wrecking havoc on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I wouldn’t say this was a real classic, and it does suffer a bit from Narrator Who Shut Up Syndrome, but Faith Domergue makes a great female lead, who provides most of the intelligence in the movie, and doesn’t simply scream and look good in a bathing-suit.
I WANT TO LIVE! (1958)
Dir: Robert Wise
Harrowing drama about the real-life story of Barbara Graham, who was sent to the gas-chamber for robbery and murder in 1955 (interestingly, only a few weeks before Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged here in Britain). Susan Hayward is superb as the woman the press nicknamed “bloody Babs”, even though there is some doubt over her guilt. The film spares us nothing in the run-up to Barbara’s execution. There are parts that have stuck in my head all these years, such as Barbara eating chocolate ice-cream with her wardress on the morning of her death, and the part where she waits tensely to hear the sound of the poisoned crystals dropping into her chamber.
JACK THE RIPPER (1959)
Dir: Monty Berman, Robert S Baker
Moody shots of a black-and-white Victorian street, carriages rumbling over cobblestones, woman in big hat weaving tipsily along. Man carrying a medical bag growl growls at her in the gloom “are you Mary Clark?” (who she?) No she isn’t. He stabs her. Yes, here we are, in another below-par, wholly inaccurate re-telling of the Whitechapel murders. I still live in hope that one day somebody will make an accurate film about the Ripper killings, but it’s something that seems to painfully elude film-makers. Made in 1959, this one – frankly – has little to recommend it, in spite of having a script by Jimmy Sangster. It does have one scene that sums up perfectly the attitude of the toffs towards those lower down the social scale than them though. A couple of debauched, champagne-swilling nobs are at a music-hall, watching a troupe of dancing-girls on stage. One says casually “I’ll have the one on the end”. If I wasn’t such an annoying purist where the subject matter is concerned, I might have enjoyed the film more, but inaccurate Ripper stuff gets my goat, and silly theories about the other women being killed because they weren’t the one the Ripper was looking for, annoys me pretty much the most.
JANE EYRE (1943)
Dir: Robert Stevenson
There have been many adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, but this 1943 version, starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles remains pretty unbeatable. I think much of its charm (apart from the fine cast) is that it absolutely oozes gothic from every pore. Lowood School is suitably grim, and Thornfield House has never been more forbidding and menacing. Joan Fontaine is the definitive Jane. Shy and unsure of herself, and yet strong-minded and courageous when she has to be. (Was there some rumour that Katherine Hepburn wanted to play this role? The very idea of it makes me shudder). And of course Orson Welles knocks any other Mr Rochester into a cocked hat. He’s cantankerous yet vulnerable. Underneath his crochety exterior he has a desperate need to be loved, which is what makes him one of the most alluring men in English literature. So many good scenes, it’s hard to pull any out. But there’s the time when Jane sees the sophisticated society beauty, Blanche Ingram, for the first time. Blanche emerges from the shadows like a glamorous ghost. And the scenes in the tower are genuinely unnerving. A great gothic film does full justice to a great gothic novel.
THE JOKERS (1967)
Dir: Michael Winner
Another of those films which is ridiculously little seen these days, which is a great shame as it’s well worth a watch. Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford are two brothers in Swinging Sixties London who hatch a crazy plan to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. There is a lighthearted innocence to it all which would be hard to imagine now. Reed in particular is very good, and I loved the nightclub scene where he sent up his own dancing. James Donald also puts in a comical turn as an oh-so-very-English army officer who wants to make sure he’s wearing the right uniform at all times.
JULIE AND JULIA (2009)
Dir: Nora Ephron
I can’t speak for anyone else, but this film almost single-handedly reignited my love of cooking. It’s effectively two stories wrapped up in one. One details loveable American domestic goddess Julia Child, who arrives to live in Paris with her husband in the 1950s, and falls in love with French cooking. The other is Julie, living in post-millennial New York, who recklessly decides to do a blog where she cooks her way through Julia’s cookery-book. Some viewers have said they preferred the Julia sequences, but I liked both. It was interesting to see Julie (Amy Adams) struggling to learn Real Proper Cooking, plus, when I first saw this film blogging was all new to me, so that was intriguing too. Meryl Streep of course steals the show as Julia. She is fabulous, absolutely adorable. This magnificent, Juno-esque woman, with her insatiable zest for life. You can’t help but fall in love with her, she’s that sweet. I rank Streep as brilliant at doing comedy, and she is on masterclass form here, bouncing repartee off her husband. Her timing is faultless.
JUST MY LUCK (1957)
Dir: John Paddy Carstairs
Harmless slice of comic escapism, starring Norman Wisdom as Norman Hackett, who dreams of buying a diamond pendant for the girl who works across the street. The only way he can possibly afford it though is by trying to score an accumulator on the geegees. He is advised in this by bookies Leslie Phillips and Delphi Lawrence. Margaret Rutherford almost steals the film as an eccentric Irish racehorse-owner, Mrs Dooley, who lives in a big house surrounded by her own private zoo. An undemanding bit of fun.
KEVIN AND PERRY GO LARGE (2000)
Dir: Ed Bye
If there’s one thing harder than transferring a sitcom to the big screen, then it must be transferring a comedy sketch to the big screen. Kevin (Harry Enfield) was a bratty teenager in Harry’s much-acclaimed sketch show, ‘Harry Enfield And Chums’, famous for coming out with things like “That’s SOOOO unfair!” He was usually accompanied by his gormless but affable friend Perry (Kathy Burke). In 2000 the decision was made to transfer Kevin and Perry to the big screen, sending the boys off on a family holiday to Ibiza, where they were obsessed with one thing – to lose their virginity. In spite of it’s unending vulgarity, there is also quite an odd innocence to this film. After all, Kevin and Perry don’t really get up to anything particularly bad, other than letching at girls, having to put up with a sleazy Savile-style DJ (Rhys Ifans), and getting into a nightclub. If you’re drunk, and it’s on late at night, it sort of takes the place of moving wallpaper. Other than that though, it’s not really very funny, the humour being very much along the lines of “wot I’ve got in my trousers”, which is alright in small doses. You may think I’m being unfair. After all I have a soft spot for ‘Guesthouse Paradisio’, and that wasn’t exactly the height of sophisticated wit! Ah yes, but that had Rik and Ade in it. It has a great soundtrack though, and should make some viewers nostalgic for the 1990s.
KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949)
Dir: Robert Hamer
Probably the only Ealing comedy I’ve never really warmed to. The plot though is brilliant for a black comedy: an unscrupulous black sheep of the family (Dennis Price) plans to bump off the various eccentric relatives who stand in the way between him and a dukedom. His victims are all played by Alec Guinness, and part of the fascination for the film is seeing Guinness got up in drag as an Edwardian suffragette. The main reason why I’ve never taken to it is that it just feels horribly dated, in a way that ‘The Ladykillers’ or ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ don’t. BUT the film is much loved, and often appears on lists of the Best British Films Ever. TRIVIA CORNER: watch out for a brief appearance by Arthur Lowe, at the very end, as a journalist.
KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941)
Dir: Jean Yarborough
“Zombies, what’s them?” “Dead folks what walk around”. Safe to say these are very old-school zombies, nothing like the stumbling-or-running decaying fiends ripping people’s guts out, which we get now. These glide around, spacy-eyed, like ghosts. Three guys crash onto a Caribbean island, and get taken into the spooky house of an eccentric Wartime scientist. His wife looks a little spaced-out (“she’s not feeling herself”), and many of his staff aren’t much livelier. A note of caution: there is no denying that this film is very much of it’s time, and some might take exception to some of the racial stereotyping on offer here, let alone some of the script – “they like dark meat” – but, having said that, I’m sorry but I do find Mantan Moreland as the “yassir!” black valet very funny. He’s like a much less annoying version of Lou Costello. And you can argue that it makes a refreshing change for a black actor to get such a prominent role in a film of this era. When Dr Sangre first appears, I immediately thought of Bela Lugosi, and apparently the role was offered to him first. But he was unavailable, and the role went to Henry Victor. It’s an undemanding, short little Wartime horror/comedy, and frankly, there are far worse ways to spend an hour of your time.
KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS (1954)
Dir: David Butler
Pretty campy bit of 1950s hokum, in which King Richard the Lionheart (George Sanders) takes on the leader of the Saracens (Rex Harrison, sporting a bit of boot polish on his face). This film has been listed as one of the 50 Worst Films Of All Time, but it’s really not that bad. I’ve seen far worse. Yes, it’s unintentionally funny in parts, but as long as you don’t take it too seriously, it’s an undemanding bit of entertainment. There are parts of it that seem downright bizarre, including one of the longest death scenes (except it’s not really a death scene, as he recovers) in cinema history, but it kept me watching to the end. TRIVIA CORNER: according to Wikipedia, the Knights Templar were fictionalised in the film as the Castelaine Knights, in order not to upset the Masonic Knights Templar, which included many leading figures in Hollywood. Now there’s one for David Icke.
THE KING’S SPEECH (2010)
Dir: Tom Hooper
That very rare phenomenon, a royal biopic that gets it completely right. The film charts the progress King George VI (Bertie) makes to overcome a severe speech impediment, under the guidance of an eccentric Australian speech therapist. Colin Firth is outstanding as Bertie, one of our more likeable, unassuming monarchs. A modest family man who was thrust into power when his brother, Edward VIII, renounced the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Helena Bonham-Carter is both imperious and yet endearing as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. I can’t help feeling that with her brisk “not to worry” comment, she summed up the Queen Mother’s character pretty well. The film is undoubtedly anti the Duke of Windsor, but to be honest that’s not a problem for me, as I can quite believe that David was a terrible narcissist. A spoilt, direction-less man, who seemed to spend his life depending on various nanny figures to stand in for his cold, remote mother, Queen Mary. And who then found what he was looking for in the colourful Mrs Simpson. A very enjoyable film, which makes you root all the way for poor old Bertie, without drowning you in cheap royalist sentiment at the same time.
THE KING’S THIEF (1955)
Dir: Robert Z Leonard
Enjoyable bit of Restoration adventure. Edmund Purdom plays Michael, who helped restore King Charles II (George Sanders) to the throne of England, but hasn’t been paid for his efforts, and resorts to highway robbery. He teams up with Lady Mary (Ann Blyth) whose father was wrongly executed for treason, to get revenge on the Duke of Brampton (David Niven), who has been framing the Royalist supporters. This does the job quite splendidly as a bit of old-school swashbuckling. Lady Mary is a more interesting heroine than we often get in this kind of thing, plus there are sword-fights, an audacious prison-break, a plot to steal the Crown Jewels, and a very hunky young Roger Moore to look at. I was surprised to read this film wasn’t better regarded. It made a loss on release, and seems to have an underwhelming, practically non-existent write-up Online. I think part of the problem may be that George Sanders seems oddly lacklustre as the King, or perhaps it’s having to accept David Niven as a villain, or that Edmund Purdom is a bit forgettable as the lead. According to Wikipedia, Robert Taylor or Stewart Granger were first pencilled in for the role, both of whom would have lifted the film up onto another level.
KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950)
Dirs: Compton Bennett, Andrew Marton
I’ve read reviews that say Stewart Grainger makes this film. I disagree (very strongly). I think it’s Deborah Kerr. Grainger is just the boorish, plank of wood know-it-all male hero that we always seem to get in old adventure films like this. Deborah Kerr is the feisty heroine who has to put up with being his comedy foil, and the butt of his incessant sneering sarcasm. Have seen that one far too many times. The plot: Grainger is hired to escort Kerr into the African outback to look for her husband, and many adventures ensue. Deborah Kerr makes a spirited, likeable female lead, and you have to hand it to her that she’s able to hack off her own hair in the African wilderness, and emerge with it looking immaculately neat and permed!
KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953)
Dir: Richard Thorpe
Glossy Hollywood re-telling of the Arthurian legends, but frankly I’d rather have this than some of the dreary, more so-called “realistic” versions I’ve seen in more recent years. This is a fantasy, and it plays it that way, with glorious castles, dashing men, and beautiful women. Robert Taylor is Lancelot, losing the plot over Guinevere (Ava Gardner, who looks stunning in a nun’s habit at the end). A nice old-fashioned bit of escapism. TRIVIA CORNER: apparently at the time this was made (1953), Hollywood were wary of making movies sent in the present day, as they didn’t want to be accused of being “un-American”, so they turned to Biblical epics, and old legends such as this. This might account for the innocent romanticism that pervades this type of film, but cinema needs them.
THE KRAYS (1990)
Dir: Peter Medak
I’ve seen this described as one of the oddest gangster films ever. It doesn’t help that it begins and ends with Billie Whitelaw (as Violet Kray) waffling on about a pregnant goose, (or least I think that’s what she’s doing). Watching this again recently I couldn’t help but feel that it’s a heavily sanitised pic of the life of the Mummy’s Boys thugs from the East End. Yes it has some pretty graphic violence in it – particularly the final showdown with Jack The Hat McVitie – but at the same time it skirts away from many issues. Gary Kemp has the more demanding role as the completely-off-his-head Ronnie, and brother Martin tries his best as the more complex Reggie, but at times their thuggish talk sounds more pathetic and caricatured than aggressive. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as the film at least doesn’t glamorise the Krays in any way, or fall into the “when the Krays were around old ladies could walk down the street safely” nonsense. Billie Whitelaw is very good as Vi, but the problem is that Vi is such a damn annoying character, endlessly deluding herself about “her boys”. The Krays hobnobbing with the rich and powerful of the day is also completely excised from the film, so we don’t get seedy little facts such as Ronnie sharing a rent-boy with Lord Boothby to distract us from Vi burbling on about her bloody boys. Which is a pity.
THE L-SHAPED ROOM (1962)
Dir: Bryan Forbes
Leslie Carron plays a young French woman, Jane, who finds herself alone and pregnant in the London of the early 60s, before they really got swinging, and when unmarried mothers were still frowned upon. She gets herself a room at the top of a spectacularly dingy boarding-house, run by the spiteful and avaricious Doris (Avis Bunnage). She soon finds herself embroiled with Toby, (Tom Bell), an Angry Young Man-style writer who lives on the floor below. It’s Jane and Toby’s on-off relationship which is such an almighty drag in this story. It’s not Tom Bell’s fault, he was a good actor, but the character of moody Toby, with his constant tantrums and self-pitying rants became a bit of a bore. The film is better (for me anyway) when it focusses on the other inhabitants of the house, such as Johnny, the gentle jazz trumpeter (Brock Peters), Mavis, the retired music-hall star (Cicely Courtneidge), and Sonia, the prostitute who lives in the basement (Patricia Phoenix, before she became more famous as Coronation Street’s legendary Elsie Tanner). Worth also seeing for that house! My goodness, what a dump. Flea-ridden mattresses, landing lights on a timer, hissing gas fires, filthy walls … bedsit land writ large. You almost expect Rigsby to appear.
LADIES WHO DO (1963)
Dir: C Pennington-Richards
Enjoyable Brit comedy from 1963, starring the formidable Peggy Mount as the leader of a gang of cleaning-ladies, who manage to get some useful little stock market tips when cleaning offices. Robert Morley is the brains behind the gang, and the adorable Harry H Corbett as an unscrupulous developer who they find is planning to turf them out of their homes. Some much-loved familiar faces all round, including Dandy Nichols (Alf Garnett’s longsuffering wife) as one of the ladies, and Jon Pertwee as the unfortunate wretch sent to do Corbett’s dirty work. Good fun, and probably overdue for a remake, considering some of the subject-matter!
LADY CAROLINE LAMB (1972)
Dir: Robert Bolt
Sarah Miles is one of our most eccentric actresses, and she seems to have born to play this role. Lady Caroline Lamb’s claim to fame is that she had a tempestuous affair with Lord Byron, which resulted in her mental collapse. Not that Caro was exactly well-grounded to start with. She was a Regency brat, the spoiled daughter of an aristocratic family. No doubt these days there would be a whole host of medically-recognised disorders to account for her extreme, impulsive behaviour, back then I guess everyone just put it down to centuries of inbreeding! Sarah is terrific in this role. Frighteningly intense, and yet also flighty and fun. Caro doesn’t come across as a bad person, just frisky and out-of-control, like a thoroughbred racehorse. And Sarah deserves respect for appearing in one scene as a blacked-up half-naked page-boy. No actress should ever have to endure the indignity of a scene like that! Richard Chamberlain tries his best to smoulder all over the place as Lord Byron, and whilst he certainly has the handsome looks (although by all accounts the real Byron wasn’t terribly good-looking), he lacks the dangerous edge required for a role like this. I feel you sort of need an English version of Jack Nicholson. Instead, he spends most of the film looking bored and vaguely embarrassed. Not exactly “Byronic”. The Regency age, with its bare-knuckle fighting, shouts of “Eeh gad sir!” and steamy poetry readings, is brought to life better than any anodyne, toothless Jane Austen adaptation. Incidentally, in real life, Lady Caro had her revenge on being ditched by Byron by writing a salacious bestselling novel (‘Glenarvon’) about their affair. And she wrote entirely at night, dressed as a pageboy.
LADY GODIVA OF COVENTRY (1955)
Dir: Arthur Lubin
Maureen O’Hara dons the flesh-coloured leotard to play the legendary Lady Godiva, who famously rode naked through the streets of Coventry to protest at her husband’s ruinous taxation. This isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s entertaining enough, usually when the feisty Maureen is on screen. You certainly get your money’s worth with Herself. The highlight of the film, of course, is the naked horseback ride. Some viewers may quibble that Maureen isn’t actually naked (although it was still shot on a closed set), and her long red hair hides just about everything, it’s still a pretty good scene, as Godiva clip-clops her way through the deserted streets. Poor old Peeping Tom pays a heavy price for a fleeting moment of leering.
LADY JANE (1986)
Dir: Trevor Nunn
Big, glossy biopic about the life of Lady Jane Grey, the young English girl who reigned over England for only 9 days in the middle of the 16th century. Jane was the victim of her powerful family’s ruthless ambition. They saw her as a means to keep the Catholic Queen Mary off the throne. Unfortunately, their scheming came to nowt, when the country refused to acknowledge Jane as the rightful queen. She was deposed, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and eventually beheaded. Helena Bonham-Carter, in her first major role, is well-cast as the earnest and scholarly Lady Jane, and she is certainly supported by some fine actors, but the film is hampered by its tiresome need to turn Jane’s story into some Mills and Boon romantic novel, and unfortunately Jane, and her young husband Guildford Dudley, are simply made out to be too good to be true. Jane Lapotaire puts in a good performance as Queen Mary, showing her, not as an evil tyrant, but as a woman hopelessly deluded into thinking everyone cared about her religion as much as she did. My favourite scene is where Jane is waiting to see the Queen, and one of the ladies-in-waiting comments that they’ve been playing cards. “She’s very good”, she adds. I liked that, as one of the little-known facts about Queen Mary is that she was a keen gambler. TRIVIA CORNER: the scene where Jane is brutally whipped by her awful stepmother has found its way onto a spanking website, as one of the great spanking scenes from the movies. I would argue most strongly that a sadistic full-on flogging is not a spanking, so there.
THE LADYKILLERS (1955)
Dir: Alexander Mackendrick
Much-loved black comedy from the Ealing stable, starring Alec Guinness as a thoroughly menacing leader of a gang of thieves (including Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom), using the home of a sweet little old lady, Mrs Wilberforce, as a hideout to plot a security-van heist. The gang fool the old lady that they are musicians who need a room to practice in. When Mrs Wilberforce finds out the truth about them, they plot to bump her off … only it doesn’t quite work out that way. Katie Johnson is marvellous as the eccentric Mrs Wilberforce, bringing all the sweetness of a lost era to life (complete with button-boots). BUT is she quite as sweet and innocent as she appears? A baby screams when she looks in a pram, and thunder rolls when she steps out into the street. No, don’t be fooled by these sweet little old ladies, they are virtually indestructible! A word must be said about Mrs Wilberforce’s house. There’s not a straight line in it, everything is crooked, giving it the feel of a Crooked House at a fairground. I also guarantee you won’t be able to hear Boccherini again without immediately thinking of this film. TRIVIA CORNER: apparently Alec Guinness based his role on Alastair Sim, and succeeded to such an extent that many people thought it was Sim in the role!
THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
Dir: Ken Russell
I think it’s safe to say that this wasn’t Ken Russell’s best effort. Based on a rubbish book by Bram Stoker (badly-written and crammed full of ancient racist attitude), this is Russell being typically over-the-top, which would be fine if it was entertaining with it, but all too often it’s just boring. A bunch of annoying students are excavating in rural Derbyshire, near where some caves are supposed to be inhabited by the legendary d’Ampton worm. Also in the neighbourhood is a debauched aristocrat, Amanda Donohoe, who seems to be possessed by the worm (well I think that’s the case, but I can’t say I’m entirely sure, all I can remember is that she has a tendency to hide in a big vase, a bit like Charles Hawtrey in ‘Carry On Cleo’). Some familiar faces are on board, Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi etc, which only goes to show that a film is only as good as it’s director at the end of the day, and Russell has to take the entire blame for this dog’s breakfast. If it had been done as a send-up, it would probably have been fun, particularly the final part with the human sacrifice in the cave, but there’s no comedy in it, and instead we’re left with the usual Ken Russell problem, that he was working out his repressed sexual fantasies instead. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, ‘Variety’ described this film as “a rollicking, terrifying, post-psychedelic head-trip”. I can only assume they were either (a) watching a different film entirely or (b) on something at the time. Because there is no way in a million years I feel it can be described that way. ADDENDUM: I watched this again recently, and although I still think it’s an atrocious film, it did at least keep me mildly (very mildly) entertained … in parts, and that’s almost entirely down to Amanda Donohoe. The bits with Catherine Oxenburg as the dreadfully dull student still drag the film down. If it had been done as a comic horror, I think it might have worked, but I always have the uneasy feeling Ken meant us to take it seriously as a piece of Art. Even so, it contains one of those classic lines to be treasured: “put your bicycle clips on, I’m expecting company”.
THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957)
Dir: Virgil W Vogel
Curious b-movie about a bunch of scientists who crash-land in Antarctica, and find themselves in a tropical jungle populated by prehistoric monsters. Of interest mainly for it’s fascination for hollow earth enthusiasts, and for mentioning Admiral Byrd. He did indeed fly over the South Pole in the 1920s, and claimed to see an opening there. Short and undemanding monster flick.
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006)
Dir: Kevin MacDonald
I believe there is a good film to be made about sadistic dictator Idi Amin. This isn’t it though. Much praise has been given to Forest Whittaker’s portrayal of the arch-thug, although as Anne Billson points out, just how hard would it be to play someone like Amin? I guess he’s not a character that requires subtlety. No matter, I think he does a good job, but what I hated about the film was the annoying (and entirely fictional) Scottish doctor who tells the story. Amin’s story is already quite absorbing enough, without putting in some sarky, know-it-all little twerp who does nothing to enhance the movie in any way. And who never existed anyway. A wasted opportunity.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)
Dir: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Made in 1964, and based on Richard Matheson’s novel ‘I Am Legend’, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ stars Vincent Price as the only survivor of a terrible plague which has reduced mankind to vampire-dom. He spends his days looking for vampires snoozing in dark places, so that he can despatch them with the time-honoured wooden stake. At night his house is besieged by them calling out “come out Morgan!” A cult classic, the film is an atmospheric little number, which these days seems to confuse people into thinking it’s a zombie film. This is largely because it is acknowledged as the inspiration for George Romero making ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, and when the Undead stalk stealthily up to Morgan’s house it’s impossible not to be reminded of that film. But they are vampires, and Morgan uses trusted old weapons like garlic and crucifixes to repel them. He also hangs up mirrors, as they can’t bear their reflections, which is an interesting slant on the old vampire mythology. Filmed in Rome, which stands in for Los Angeles, ‘Last Man’ is well worth a look for fans of apocalyptic horror, and to see the adorable Vincent at his best.
LAST WOMAN ON EARTH (1960)
Dir: Roger Corman
Another of Roger Corman’s low-budget post-apocalyptic thrillers, and yet I didn’t find this one as engaging as ‘Day The World Ended’, mainly because the characters are spectacularly unsympathetic. A married couple are on holiday in Puerto Rico with their friend Martin (or “Mar-Un”, as they insist on calling him throughout, by the end of the film that missing ‘t’ was really getting to me). After an unpleasant opening scene at a cock-fight, they all decide to go scuba-diving. Whilst underwater something awful happens … the entire rest of the world’s population gets wiped out. Wow, that puts a bit of a bummer on the holiday. Our threesome seem to take this devastating news remarkably in their stride, barely breaking a sweat out of the monotonously deadpan acting, only really pausing to note that the stench from all the dead bodies will soon get unbearable. Instead, they seem more intent on fussing and feuding over their tedious love triangle. This takes over the film, until in the end it feels like we’re watching a painfully drawn-out soap story, than a sci-fi. The two men seem to spend a fair chunk of the film trying to knock seven bells out of each other, and this can all end up feeling a bit gay (particularly when they’re slugging it out, wet shirt-style, in the surf). At one point I thought they were going to start snogging each other, and leave poor old Evelyn (Betsy Jones-Morland) out in the cold. Of course, being a Corman thriller from 1960, Evelyn spends most of the apocalypse wandering around in a lovely full-skirted frock, dangly earrings and high heels. As you would.
LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951)
Dir: Mario Zampi
Endearing vintage British comedy, featuring a much-loved cast, including Alastair Sim, George Cole, Joyce Grenfell, and John Laurie. An eccentric practical joker decides to play one last prank on his family after his death, by making them perform various tasks in his Will. A vinegary woman, who gives her staff hell, is made to work as a domestic servant for a month to a cantankerous old man. A timid bank clerk has to hold up his own boss in a bank raid. A writer of pulp crime novels has to commit a crime and spend a month in prison. It’s all good clean fun, and well worth it just to see Sim as a pulp fiction writer, dictating trashy novels to his secretary. Am amazed Hollywood’s never remade this one. TRIVIA CORNER: In a blink-and-you-might-miss-her scene, Audrey Hepburn pops up briefly as a cigarette girl in a nightclub.
LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)
Dir: John M Stahl
The outstandingly beautiful Gene Tierney plays Ellen, a wealthy young woman who meets Richard (Cornel Wilde), a writer, on a train. Things progress naturally, and the couple marry. There are some niggly concerns at first. Ellen seems ridiculously jealous of Enid, a long-forgotten childhood sweetheart, and seems to resent anyone else having Richard’s attention (“It’s only because I love you so, I can’t bear to share you with anybody”). Alarm bells ring when she announces that she wants no one else to come into the family home. I read a lively discussion about this film on YouTube, which took Ellen’s side of things. I must admit I did agree with a lot of the points made. Richard seems to have a lot of issues too. He takes Ellen to an idyllic log cabin by the lake for their honeymoon, but then proceeds to fill the place with family members, including an annoying kid brother who knocks on their bedroom wall in the mornings, just as they’re about to get cosy. There is also Thorn, a stupendously irritatingly goofy old family retainer, who keeps bursting into song quite unnecessarily. As if that’s not bad enough, Richard spends most of his time bashing away on his tripewriter. Nevertheless the film is an excellent study of a female psychopath, and Gene is superb. Well worth anyone’s time.
THE LEGACY (1978)
Dir: Richard Marquand
Katharine Ross as an American interior designer, called over to Blighty on a lucrative job. She and hubby (an annoyingly gobby Sam Elliott) get knocked off their motorbike in the English countryside by a tycoon (John Standing, and we don’t see enough of him) in a Rolls Royce. He invites them back to this lavish country pile, where they soon find themselves being joined by other guests arriving by helicopter. The film has a strong ‘And Then There Were None’ feel about it, with each guest being bumped off in various imaginative ways (the one everyone seems to remember is Roger Daltrey choking on a bone, and having to undergo a Don’t Try This At Home-style tracheotomy). The horror is quite muted by modern standards, and the film works best as a puzzling thriller. That’s not to say there aren’t some silly horror elements, such as a spooky white cat which seems to morph into a nurse (Margaret Tyzack) at random. None of the characters are very likeable, so we don’t really care about them getting murdered, which is just as well, as the cast list is quite depleted by the end. The dreadful theme song, by Kiki Dee, sounds like a Bond film reject. TRIVIA CORNER: If you like big old houses though then it’s worth watching for the setting alone, and I will rate it for that alone. Apparently it was filmed at Loseley Park in Surrey.
Dir: Brian Helgeland
Excellent biopic of the notorious East End gangsters, the Kray Twins (both played by Tom Hardy), which helps to banish memories of that irritating Kemp bros effort from several years. Tom Hardy is superb in the dual roles of Reggie and Ronnie, but it’s with the psychotic character of Ronnie that his acting colours really shine. This is a stunning performance, re-creating Ronnie as a kind of mad Roman emperor in spectacles. Depraved, violent, terrifying … and to be completely honest, also very funny. I know it sounds odd to find Ronnie Kray a comedy turn, but there is no denying that Hardy’s deft comic touch is brilliant here. The rest of the cast also do a fine turn, with Emily Browning as Reggie’s ill-fated wife Frances (who narrates the film), Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the Krays’ nemesis, Chezz Palminteri as an American Mafiosi boss, and John Sessions as the fruity Lord Boothby (the infamous photograph of Ronnie, Boothby and the rent boy on a sofa is neatly done). The Twins’ mother is kept to a blissful minimum, and is a far more realistic portrayal than the Billie Whitelaw version.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
Dir: John Hough
Well here it is, my favourite film of all time. Just shoot me now. I tend to judge film critics on how they review this film. If they like it, then they’re great people and fine by me, if they hate it, then they’re knobheads and I don’t want anything more to do with them. I guess we all have a particular film like that. Yes, it has its faults, but I’m not going to dwell on them. The story is simple. Four people are summoned to a spectacularly spooky old house to do a ghost investigation (Ok this does sound a bit familiar, see ‘The Haunting’). This was the days before modern ghost-hunting, which seems to involve irritating students prowling around with infra-red camera’s, and whispering “OMG! I heard something then!” (Probably your heartbeat, you dickhead). Clive Revill plays Lionel Barrett, a skeptical psychic investigator, Gayle Hunnicutt is his beautiful wife, Anne, Roddy McDowell is the strange young psychic who was left traumatised by a previous visit to the house, and the superb Pamela Franklin is Florence Tanner, a deeply religious medium. These four carry the film well, although I liked Roger Ebert’s suggestion that perhaps Barrett should have been played by Peter Bowles’s suave, plummy-voiced character, who sadly only appears at the beginning. The fifth star of the film is undoubtedly the house itself. It is the epitome of a haunted house, with its bricked-up windows, dust and cobwebs festooned everywhere, ripped curtains, scarlet bedspreads, and crackling log fires. It was filmed at Wykehurst Park in Sussex, a house with a fascinating history all of its own. Sadly it’s not open to the public, or I’d be down there like a shot. The film critic Anne Billson said she once got a schoolgirl crush on Pamela Franklin. It’s easily done. She’s fascinating, and has a sexy, kitten-ish intensity. Roddy McDowell is my favourite though. This peculiar young man, desperately trying to bury his sensitive side in order to protect himself. His final confrontation with the spirit of the evil Belasco is a tour-de-force of a performance. One final word. I did read an American critic once saying he was baffled by the big place at the beginning of the film, where the tycoon Mr Deutsch lives. “The old boy seems to live in a museum”. It’s Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. Mr Deutsch is shown sitting in the long library there, and Peter Bowles chats to Clive Revill as they walk out into the courtyard. (In real life the coffee-shop is just below where they are walking!). Hope that helps. (Apologies, I am a total anorak about this film). TRIVIA CORNER: according to the IMDb website, the director originally wanted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for this film. Am very glad that didn’t happen. They would have destroyed it’s spooky low-key feel.
THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975)
Dir: Paul Wendkos
Elizabeth Montgomery may be rather too pretty to play the notorious lady of Falls River (who from what I can gather was a bit of a lump), but she puts in a very convincing performance nonetheless in a well-made TV film. It very much takes the line that Lizzie was guilty of butchering her father and step-mother with an axe, and although I find it hard to believe that a Victorian spinster like Lizzie would have stripped down to the buff to do the murders (particularly when you consider that stripping off in those days was no quick and easy task!), it still gives an intriguing insight into Lizzie’s tortured personality. The film also manages to capture the atmosphere of 1890s America, with the tinkly piano score, and interior shots which make you feel like you’re looking at old sepia photographs. The horror of the Borden family’s final breakfast is also well-conveyed. The sight of Andrew and Abby guzzling fly-infested mutton broth is not for the faint-hearted! TRIVIA CORNER (thanks YouTube): Apparently a dress Elizabeth Montgomery wears in the film is on display in the Lizzie Borden B&B. There is also an anecdote that, after she had been acquitted, Lizzie had a crate delivered. When the delivery-man couldn’t open it, Lizzie offered to go and get a hatchet. The delivery-man fled the scene! Elizabeth Montgomery is also rumoured to be distantly related to Lizzie.
LES MISERABLES (2012)
Dir: Tom Hooper
This is a Marmite film. You either love it or hate it. Unfortunately I hate it. I’m not a massive fan of musicals anyway, and I particularly detest ones where the actors insist on singing all their lines. I can’t watch more than a few minutes of this without wanting to smash up furniture, and there’s about 3 hours of it. Sorry.
LET HIM HAVE IT (1991)
Dir: Peter Medak
Good biopic based on the story of Derek Bentley, a young man who was hanged in 1951 for allegedly aiding and abetting the shooting of a policeman during a bungled burglary. The evidence rested solely on Bentley shouting “let him have it, Chris!” at his friend Christopher Craig, who carried out the shooting. Craig was too young to face the death-penalty, being under 18 at the time, but Bentley wasn’t. The words “let him have it” are ambiguous to say the least. They can either imply “kill him!” or “let him have the gun!” Bentley was also educationally sub-normal, having the mindset of a child. His execution has left a bad taste in the mouth ever since. Christopher Eccleston is excellent as Bentley, and the era is captured well.
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948)
Dir: Max Ophuls
I’ve seen this described as “the first stalker movie”, and I suppose to modern eyes that’s what it looks like, but it’s actually a very sad and gentle romance. The fabulous Joan Fontaine plays Lisa, a schoolgirl growing up in early 20th century Vienna, who forms a crush on a neighbour, a concert pianist, Stefan (Louis Jourdan). Unfortunately she doesn’t grow out of the crush, and devotes her life to him. Although she does get to spend an evening with him – resulting in the birth of his son – she finds years later that he has no memory of who she is. Stefan only finds out the true story when he receives a letter from her after her death. It’s a beautiful, elegant film, and only Joan could make me have sympathy for a woman throwing away so much on a man who’s not worth it.
LICENCE TO KILL (1989)
Dir: John Glen
Probably one of my least favourite Bond films. I’ve watched it a couple of times now, and it’s one of the very few Bond films which struggles to hold my attention. It drags horribly in parts, even the final segment, which has the usual Big Bang finish we expect from a Bond film, can feel like it’s limping along! The Bond genre seemed to struggle in the 1980s as to what to do with itself, particularly where the women were concerned. Concerns over AIDS meant Bond couldn’t be shown jumping into bed every five minutes, and yet he still manages to be a complete bounder in this, snogging one woman one minute, and then sneaking over to snog the other. Miss Moneypenny has been reduced to a whiny, weepy drag. It also must have seemed a good idea at the time to bump up Q’s part from his usual brisk “now pay attention 007” few minutes, but here they’ve turned him into a sort of doddery old great-uncle, constantly trying to make excuses for a wayward nephew. Having said all that, Timothy Dalton does his best as 007. I’ve read comments that his portrayal of Bond was closer to Daniel Craig’s version, and that it was just his misfortune to come straight after the Roger Moore years, when viewers weren’t ready for such an abrupt transition from the “disco Bonds” to a more gritty interpretation. I think that’s a fairly good analysis. None of the faults in this film are down to him. The problem was in the rubbish script, the sluggish pacing, and some utterly unmemorable villains and Bond Girls. TRIVIA CORNER (POSSIBLE SPOILER): at the very end, we are shown Felix Leiter – who earlier in the film was used as shark bait – sitting up in bed in hospital and looking rather jolly. Presumably nobody had got round to telling him that his wife had been killed earlier in the film!
THE LIGHTHOUSE (1999)
Dir: Simon Hunter
Little-known cut-price horror, featuring some familiar British faces. A convict-ship is heading towards a prison island. A storm forces them all to take refuge at a lighthouse, where the last lighthouse-keepers were hoping for a final quiet night before they go automated. No such luck. Amongst the visitors is a crazed serial-killer, alongside the daughter of one of his victims, who is now a criminal psychologist. I quite liked this film, and not just because I’ve got a thing about lighthouses (don’t ask). It’s an absorbing little thriller, with some very tense moments. I also liked seeing Don Warrington, normally known for his suave roles, playing out-of-type as a nerdy doctor. One of the chained prisoners is also Bob Goody, whom I vaguely remember as a children’s entertainer in my far-off youth!
THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1917)
Dir: Marshall Neilan
First cinematic outing for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel. Made in 1917, and starring America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, who was then 25, as schoolgirl Sara Crewe. Sara is packed off from exotic India to boarding-school in dreary old London. At first she has everything she could want, but when her father dies, leaving her penniless, she is forced to work as a skivvy to earn her keep. The film stays remarkably faithful to the book, apart from a weird Ali Baba sequence. I can’t understand what the point of that was, other than that perhaps Mary got fed up with skipping around in little girl’s flouncy dresses, and wanted to don an Arabian Nights-style costume instead for a few minutes! You can get the full magic of Pickford in this film though, and I can see why she was such a huge star. She is wonderfully vivacious, with her trademark ringlets, and expressive face. At only 5ft tall, it doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to believe she’s a child, and presumably that’s why she was getting foisted with child parts until she was well into adulthood. The headmistress, Miss Minchin, is one scary old dame. In one scene she callously tells Sara that her father is dead, and we get a close up of her face, in all it’s grim panstick glory. Truly, the stuff of nightmares.
LITTLE VOICE (1998)
Dir: Mark Herman
Popular film, carrying it’s fair weight of talent. Jane Horrocks plays LV (Little Voice), so named because she’s painfully shy and talks in a very soft little voice. She only gains confidence when she’s singing along to her father’s old records. One evening she’s overheard by low-rent showbiz agent (Michael Caine, truly brilliant), who decides she’s his chance to finally make the big-time. Only he also has to contend with her formidable mother (Brenda Blethyn), a horrific rent-a-gob. Both Caine and Blethyn make the film. They are stand-outs, and their scenes together are very funny. I’m afraid I’m not a fan of Jane Horrocks at the best of times, and I found the character of LV too annoying. She seemed selfish, unable to make any effort to understand anyone else, locked in her own uptight gloom. The high point of the film is LV doing a show-stopping routine at a local working men’s club. Whilst this is great fun, it’s hard to see how someone doing competent impersonations of Shirley Bassey, Gracie Fields and Judy Garland is going to hit the heights of mega-stardom these days! And I think that’s part of the problem for me, the film has a peculiar dated feel. I’m assuming it’s meant to be set nowadays (or 1998 when the film was released, the play on which it was based was written in 1992), and yet LV’s mum’s only just getting a telephone installed??? Some might love it for that reason, it has an old-fashioned charm.
LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
Dir: Guy Hamilton
Probably one of my favourite James Bond films. I just love the voodoo elements to it. Roger Moore, in his debut as Bond, may not have Connery’s presence (according to some anyway), but he’s a far better actor than some critics would have you believe, and he makes a pretty good job of it. He also has a quietly boyish charm which is very endearing. The exotic Louisiana backdrop, with its voodoo rituals, witch-doctors, Tarot cards, and flesh-chomping alligators, works splendidly. There is a boat chase sequence to end them all (I never get tired of watching that), and comic relief with Mrs Bell’s flying lesson, and Sheriff J W Pepper. Jane Seymour makes a more interesting Bond girl than we normally get. There is also a pretty stonking theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
Dir: John Glen
It’s curious to analyse quite why the Timothy Dalton Bond films are not regarded with the same affection as the others. ‘The Living Daylights’ has all the classic ingredients of Bond, and yet something just seems to fall flat. Dalton certainly looks the part, and he’s a fine actor, (check him out as Mr Rochester in a BBC adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ from the 1970s, he was superb), but I can’t for the life of me see why he just doesn’t cut it. Connery of course defined the role, Roger Moore added boyish charm and humour, Pierce Brosnan dragged it into the modern era, and Daniel Craig went back to basics, and made Bond a fully multi-dimensional character. I think part of the problem for me is that ‘The Living Daylights’ feels like it’s more suited for Roger Moore. It has it’s moments of slapstick, and Dalton – with the best will in the world – is not at ease with that. It’s like watching Greta Garbo doing a pratfall. The scene where Bond slides down a ski-slope clutching a cello feels absolutely tailor-made for Moore, but not Dalton. It also doesn’t help that this has one of the least likeable Bond girls. She just seems to lack interest or charm, and is frankly annoying. Politically, the film is now a bit of an embarrassment, having Bond joining forces with the Taliban to fight the Russians, and the Taliban (headed by Art Malik) being presented as a loveable bunch of scallywags! Still, having said all that, I liked the scenes set around the grand country house (complete with psychotic milkman!), and it has one of my favourite lines in a Bond film: “just taking the Aston Martin out for a spin, Q”. ADDENDUM: Someone on Twitter said the problem was that there was too much of Timothy Dalton in Timothy Dalton to play Bond, and that he’s more used to delivering meaningful lines. Possibly. Watching this again though recently it has to be said there are times when Dalton gets closer to the spirit of Ian Fleming’s original creation than any other actor (take the fairground scenes for instance). Bond enthusiasts like me will probably be arguing this one until the end of time.
THE LODGER (1944)
Dir: John Brahm
If you’ve read my review of Jack The Ripper from 1959 (see above), you’ll have read me raging about how there’s never been a decent film made about the unknown killer. Well I was wrong. The Lodger is a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent version (which had starred Ivor Novello), also worth checking out. Based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes The Lodger has Laird Cregar as a mysterious tenant, Mr Slade, who takes up rooms in a London boarding-house, run by the marvellous Sara Allgood. Mr Slade is a strange, somewhat awkward character, who objects to pictures of actresses, and turns them to the wall. Merle Oberon plays Kitty, a music hall star, who becomes the latest object of his depraved obsession. This is a pretty good, unpretentious little thriller, and I can’t praise Laird Cregar enough. He is simply excellent. The film also has suave George Sanders as the investigating police officer, which is also a bonus.
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Odd, but good adaptation of Nabokov’s controversial novel about a middle-aged academic (Dirk Bogarde) who becomes obsessed with his landlady’s teenage daughter (Sue Lyon). Considering the censorship restrictions of the time, the film still manages to convey a lot. The peculiarly-named Humbert Humbert is not exactly a sympathetic character, in fact I would argue none of the characters are very nice. They are all selfish and annoying. Shelley Winters does a splendid job though in the difficult role of Charlotte, Lolita’s brassy mother. She manages to make Charlotte’s whiney neediness both annoying and sympathetic at the same time. Watching it from a modern viewpoint it’s also fascinating to see the teenager as a new phenomenon. Sue Lyon’s Lolita wouldn’t be that out of place now. Peter Sellers gives one of his oddest roles ever as the chameleon Quilty. Sometimes I wonder if that was the character most similar to his true personality (although Sellers always argued he didn’t have one). I wouldn’t say it was an enjoyable film, but a macabrely fascinating one nonetheless. TRIVIA CORNER: I did a bit of browsing around about Sue Lyon, as she’s not exactly a household name. She quite rightly earned great praise for her role as Lolita, but her career never really lived up to this promising start. From the late 1960s onwards her career nose-dived, and her last screen role was a bit part as a reporter in the much-slated cult horror effort Alligator in 1980. Such is show business.
LONDON BELONGS TO ME (1948)
Dir: Sidney Gilliatt
Based on the novel by Norman Collins, London Belongs To Me details the lives of the occupants of a boarding-house, starting at Christmas 1938, and running up to the outbreak of World War 2. There’s Mr Josser (Wylie Watson), reluctantly having to retire through ill-health, Percy Bone (a very young Richard Attenborough) who finds himself drawn into a life of crime, with disastrous results, Mr Squales (Alastair Sim), the fake psychic medium, and Connie Coke (Ivy St Helier), the ageing nightclub hat-check girl. The residents all come together when young Perce finds himself up on a charge of murder. There’s a wonderful part where Mr Josser and his chums come to the conclusion that the only thing for it is to start a revolution in dear old Blighty … only to be thwarted by the weather.
THE LOST CONTINENT (1968)
Dir: Michael Carreras
A rusty old ship is on it’s way to Carracas, carrying an assortment of miserable passengers and some illegally stowed cans of explosives. It won’t come as a total shock to know that the explosives … er … explode, and everyone has to take to the lifeboat. They venture out into the dangerous weed-choked Sargasso Sea, and eventually meet a lost colony who are still re-enacting the Spanish Inquisition (not the Monty Python version, I should add). This isn’t a bad film, and as an adventure film, it does the job adequately. My problem with it is that all the characters are so utterly dislikeable, to the extent of being repellent. Even dear old Nigel Stock plays the detestable Dr Webster, a sociopath who relentlessly bullies his daughter (Suzanna Leigh). Why should I give a damn if they all fall into the weeds and get choked to death? This was Hammer breaking out into fantasy. It’s based on an early novel by Dennis Wheatley, and thank goodness they at least chucked out the grotesque racism which runs through that. This is one of those occasions when the film improves vastly on the book. TRIVIA CORNER: in one scene, Dr Webster can be seen reading a paperback copy of Wheatley’s original novel in the bar on the ship.
THE LOST WORLD (1960)
Dir: Irwin Allen
Absolutely AWFUL adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel. Just about everything about it is wrong. It feels horribly dated for one thing, not helped by stock characters who all manage to be incredibly annoying. There’s the grumpy, arrogant scientist (Claude Rains), the bland hero (Michael Rennie) who has a title doncha know (well we do know, because he keeps mentioning it all the time), and Jill St John who is woefully mis-cast as the ridiculous Jennifer. She hitches along as the token girl, bringing her pink ensemble and her little dog with her, like a 1960s version of Paris Hilton. We are told at one point that Jennifer has the courage of a lioness. Could’ve fooled me, as she spends most of her time sobbing and having hysterics, getting into one scrape after another, and bawling “Johnny! Johnny!” None of the characters are remotely likeable. Even the bloody dog manages to be annoying. The dinosaurs are an almighty let-down. They make an awful lot of noise when they appear, but look about as convincing as little plastic toys you used to get in cereal packets. The only thing that kept me going was to see if Jennifer’s spotless pink trousers and shirt ever managed to get any wear and tear.
THE LOVES OF JOANNA GODDEN (1947)
Dir: Charles Frend
Enjoyable soapy drama about a feisty young woman (the formidable Googie Withers) inheriting her father’s farm in 1905, and determined to do things her way. Set and filmed on the Romney Marshes in Kent, the film has a pretty escapist air to it at times. The story can feel a tad predictable, and everything gets tied up a bit too neatly at the end, but it’s an engaging tale, and I was fascinated by the scenes filmed at Dungeness, in pre nuclear reactor days! Jean Kent plays her snotty little sister, whose expensive education turns her into a greedy brat. Scripted by H E Bates, and with music by Vaughan Williams.
LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971)
Dir: Jimmy Sangster
Usually regarded as one of the worst of the later efforts from the Hammer stable, and the title just about says it all. It’s really just an excuse to show lots of nubile young women in a state of undress. And yet, if you’re after something thoroughly undemanding to watch, it does the job. Ralph Bates tries to give the film some credibility by putting in a solid turn as a fusspot schoolmaster, and there are lots of nice scenery to look at (and you can always do a “nipple-count” to use an old ‘Sunday Sport’ expression). The costumes (when the girls are wearing them) are very elegant. And I have to say I do watch the film mainly for the splendid hats and dresses … and Ralph Bates, whom I could watch in anything. The film is hampered considerably by a totally lacklustre female lead. She’s meant to be the reincarnation of an evil blood-sucking countess, and yet she has all the presence of a bored-looking middle-class housewife running a tombola stall. The theme song too is screamingly awful, like a distant bad dream from a trippy version of the Eurovision Song Contest. Strange Love sung by “Tracy”. Once heard never forgotten.