The Plank (1967) February 20, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, 3 stars, 1960s, British films, 2012 , add a comment
Back to burning through my outstanding 2012 reviews.
Today, Eric Skyes’ near-silent ’60s comedy…
Django (1966) January 18, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Western, 4 stars, 1960s, world cinema, 2013 , add a comment
With Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained in UK cinemas today, and Argent Films releasing a UK Blu-ray of the 1966 original Django on Monday, now seems a good time to review the latter:
#89: Gambit (1966) December 29, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Thriller, Crime, 4 stars, 1960s, 2011 , 2 comments
I decided to watch Gambit, which I’d never heard of, after it was recommended on twitter by a film journalist and he was greeted with a seemingly-never-ending chorus of “thank you” tweets — my curiosity was suitably piqued. And I’m glad, because Gambit is a ton of fun.
Gambit is, as you may have guessed, distinctly underrated. The huge advantage of this is that you’re not very likely to have had all the twists spoiled, which is wonderful news! Indeed, because the biggest twist is near the start, it’s pretty hard to review without giving it away — as the Psycho-referencing poster promises. But I’ll do my best. Honestly though, avoid other reviews, just in case. I don’t want to oversell it because it’s probably not of quite the same magnitude as, say, The Sixth Sense, or indeed Psycho (pick either of the big twists there), but it is a good’un.
So, it stars Michael Caine as a con artist, and he ropes Shirley MacLaine into his latest scheme for a very specific reason. Once underway, it’s a very funny film, with great turns from MacLaine and Caine. The latter is more subtle, but he’s underplaying beautifully and it really pays off. The humour lures you into a kind of false sense of security, because some bits are very tense (at least, I thought so). You become suitably attached to these characters, giving a nail-biting boost to scenes of them pulling off their con. This is true of the climax in particular, where naturally it’s all on the knife-edge of falling apart.
Twists in con movies are par for the course, of course, but here it’s not just the opening that has one: there’s also a salvo in the closing minutes, just to keep you on your toes. You may guess one or two as they rush up on you, but perhaps not all of them. Though as I’ve just warned you they’re coming you stand a better chance than me.
Gambit is imperfect — a romantic angle springs up out of nowhere in the closing minutes that could have done with a bit (well, a lot) more development earlier in the film — but flaws like that barely matter in the face of all the fun it has. I know I haven’t said much, but trust me, that’s for the best. If an amusing heist/con movie from the ’60s starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine sounds like your kind of thing, read no more, just watch it. I did, and I loved it.
Gambit placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.
#87: That Touch of Mink (1962) December 6, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Romance, 4 stars, 1960s, 2011 , add a comment
Starring Doris Day as a regular girl who wants to marry Cary Grant’s rich businessman for love, while he just wants to get her into bed, That Touch of Mink is a sex comedy… but being a film produced in ’60s America, no one comes close to using such language. But it’s unquestionably all about that.
However, despite being all about a lewder side of life, tonally and visually it’s very light, fluffy and funny. It’s also briskly paced and constantly amusing, including some real laugh-out-loud moments. In particular, a punchline delivered by two ladies from a centre for unwed mothers was one of my favourite comedy lines for a good while. (Built as it is on a series of events, it doesn’t bear repeating in print.) While Day and Grant carry the story, there’s great support from Gig Young as the hand-wringing financial executive of Grant’s company. The subplot about his therapist pays such dividends it’s even used for the film’s final gag.
The ending perhaps pulls a few too familiar mistaken identity tricks, but that’s just a small part of the whole. As a candy-coloured confection of a film with edgier undertones, That Touch of Mink is pretty entertaining.
#16: True Grit (1969) November 4, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Western, adaptations, 4 stars, 1960s, 2011 , 2 comments
I’d been hanging on to this to post with a review of the Coen brothers’ remake, but as that’s not happening any time soon and I’ve had this waiting around for months (I watched it in February!), the fact it’s on TV a couple of times this week makes now seem a good a time as any.
Having been remade to Oscar-nominating effect by American Cinematic Gods the Coen brothers, the first adaptation of Charles Portis’ Western novel True Grit was around plenty (on TV, Blu-ray, etc) back in… February, I guess. The story in all three versions (which might sound obvious, but is never guaranteed when it comes to adaptations) concerns a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (here, Kim Darby), whose father is murdered by his hired hand, so she sets out for murderous revenge, recruiting Marshal Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to help because she’s heard he has the titular attribute.
What this means in filmmaking terms is the potential for a couple of great lead performances: the strong-willed, old-headed little girl and the rascally old lawman. Indeed, the remake earnt Oscar and BAFTA nominations for both of these roles, while this earlier version saw Wayne win the Best Actor Oscar and Darby receive a BAFTA nomination. This was the only time Wayne won an Oscar, and you can’t help but feel it was probably a career award as much as anything. As fun as Rooster Cogburn is, he doesn’t feel like a particularly exceptional character or a particularly exceptional performance from Wayne.
Darby, on the other hand, gives a great performance. Mattie Ross is a great character — plain speaking, knows her own mind, ready & prepared for anything… and isn’t ever shown up either, instead besting everyone’s low expectations of her. Darby was 21 at the time but is completely convincing not only as a 14-year-old but as a 14-year-old who’s wise beyond her years. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance in the remake has been much praised, but it has a lot to live up to from this.
The story is told pacily, which is nice, and despite being a Western has the feel of not being too much a Western, if that makes sense. I have no problem with Westerns, but for some reason some people do, and maybe something like True Grit would persuade them otherwise in the first instance. That said, I didn’t like the score much — it’s too often inappropriately genial for my taste — and the climax is a bit dappy — John Wayne defeating four men by riding at them with the reins in his mouth while firing two pistols? Seriously?
Still, those are minor points. True Grit is good fun, both exciting and funny in correct measures, with two entertaining lead performances. And I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the cast, including screen luminaries like Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall, all of whom give their own even if they’re less notable alongside Wayne and Darby. The Coen brothers’ remake has a lot to live up to.
True Grit is on More4 tomorrow at 1:05pm, on More4 +1 at 2:05pm (funny that), and again on More4 at 10am on Friday 11th November.
#31: The Damned (1963) October 28, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, Drama, Sci-fi, adaptations, 3 stars, 1960s, British films, 2011 , add a comment
Sometimes, at least for me, films improve in retrospect. My opinion while watching may be different to when I look back days, weeks, months, or even years later. Films I thought I disliked may benefit from a kind of nostalgia; some films just gain something from extended reflection, even if that isn’t conscious; films I underrated may improve when I gain perspective on their qualities relative to other works; in some cases, it’s just that I’m getting older and wiser.
There are several films reviewed on this blog that I think would warrant a different opinion if I watched them again now, but The Damned is the most recent example. I think if I’d got round to this review any quicker it would be less enthusiastic than what I’m about to write.
That said, it’s not as if I’ve had a complete turnaround of opinion: The Damned is an interesting film, certainly, but one that is perhaps somewhat undercut by its age; a kind of ’60s SF that would probably require a distinctly different approach if you were to attempt to make it today. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it has that kind of disconnect from reality that’s markedly ’60s. In his review for MovieMail, James Oliver notes that “despite his background in low-budget genre flicks, Losey was at heart an art house director, keen to communicate big themes and ideas”, which perhaps explains some of this.
It’s also oddly constructed (perhaps due to studio interference — see Oliver again), starting out as a kind of small town British gang B-movie, with some eccentric and apparently irrelevant characters turning up in asides, before segueing into a nuclear-age SF parable. As a post on IMDb’s boards put it (yes, sometimes those are worth reading — it astounds me too), The Damned is “continually in flux — just as you think you’ve got it pegged as one genre of film, it becomes another.” Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but unusual.
Once the film hits its genre stride, it shows that it is (to borrow further from that IMDb post) “true science fiction, in that it’s about ideas, and a commentary on current culture, and where that culture may be leading. In other words, science fiction for adults”. Obviously that’s the “current culture” of 1963, but in that sense it perhaps offers an insight into the thoughts and attitudes of the time, and the kind of inhumanity that might be reached in the quest to survive nuclear war.
My mixed reaction to The Damned leaves its score in the middle of the board, but I’d encourage those with an interest in intelligent science-fiction or ’60s genre films to give it a go.
#66: A Study in Terror (1965) October 4, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, Thriller, Crime, 3 stars, 1960s, British films, Mystery, Sherlock Holmes, 2011 , add a comment
“Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” would be the easiest way to describe this pulpy ’60s effort. It’s far from the only example of this sub-sub-genre: Murder by Decree did it 14 years later, and goodness knows how many novels and short stories have attempted it. But I’ve not seen or read any of those, so I’m afraid I can’t compare.
Judged in its own right, then, it’s a decent Holmes movie, with an atmospheric rendering of Victorian London and a passably intriguing plot. However, the relatively light basis in the true story of Jack the Ripper may grate with some who approach it from that angle: there’s a Holmesian plot grafted onto a smattering of Ripper facts, as opposed to using Holmes to deduce one of the posited real solutions. As entertainment, though, that doesn’t hold it back.
That said, I didn’t feel it all all quite made sense — someone sends Holmes a clue at the start of the story, with no explanation as to what it’s got to do with anything, and though by the end it’s explained who sent it, I was none the wiser what they’d been intending. And I watched the revelation scene twice too. Still, at least the important bit — who the murderer is ‘n’ all that — is quite neat.
Also watch out for Judi Dench in a small early role, and Barbara Windsor getting killed. Marvel, with hindsight, at which one’s got the bigger role and is higher billed.