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Square Eyes; Awesome Welles This Christmas… December 4, 2009

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Film General, Square Eyes , 8 comments

Citizen Welles…

BBC FOUR IS TREATING US TO AN Orson Welles season over the Christmas holiday, featuring five of The Great Man’s best known films, a little screened BBC series from the ’50s, a welcome repeat of an excellent Arena ’80s documentary, and a brand new look at Welles’ post Hollywood career courtesy of leading ‘Wellesian’ Simon Callow.

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.

Orson Welles

The schedule, as it stands now, is:

Friday, Dec.18, 19:30-19.45 - The Orson Welles Sketchbook; A series of talks by Orson Welles, illustrated by his own sketches. This is fascinating - the Beeb digging deep into its own archives for a series first aired in 1955 in six parts. I’ve never seen this so I’m grateful for this neat précis courtesy of IMDB: “This six-episode series, produced on a shoestring budget for the BBC, proves that above all else Orson Welles was a great storyteller. The camera cuts back and forth between close-ups of Welles and his charming sketches as he tells anecdotes ranging from the tragic (such as the case of a black U.S. serviceman who returned to the South after a tour in the Pacific, got into a dispute with a bus driver, and as a result was beaten blind by a policeman) to the hilarious (the varied reactions to the Mercury Theatre of the Air’s infamous radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds). This is as minimalist as television gets - just his drawings, his subtle facial expressions, and that wonderful, wry voice - and it’s riveting; a great showcase of Welles’s talent, wit, and charisma.”

What is a little odd is that, thus far, BBC4 only appear to be showing five of the six parts, if indeed that is what we’re getting. Detail so far is scant - let’s hope it isn’t just one or two of the ‘Sketchbooks’ repeated over.

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 00:10-00:25 - The Orson Welles Sketchbook; Series of talks by Orson Welles, illustrated by his own sketches.

Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 19.00-19:15 - The Orson Welles Sketchbook; Series of talks by Orson Welles, illustrated by his own sketches.

I have the terrible feeling that, because I am wearing a white beard and am sitting in the back of the theatre, you expect me to tell you the truth about something. These are the cheap seats, not Mount Sinai.

Orson Welles

Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25, 19.00-21:00 - Citizen Kane; Welles’ tour de force is weighed down by it consistently being voted the Best Film Ever Made, as if there could ever be such a thing. If you’re viewing for the first time, I can only beg you to view Orson Welles’s masterpiece as a piece of pure cinema and not an irrefutable icon that sits there Citizen Kanebegging to be shot at. Kane tells the story of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane in a series of stylish and stylised flashbacks. A reporter is intrigued by the dying Kane’s last word - rosebud - and sets out to find a new angle on the life of one of the most powerful men in America. Nine Oscar nominations resulted in only one award for the wunderkind Welles - Best Screenplay - and was to serve as both a medal of honour and the millstone that would forever hang round his substantial neck. If you allow it, Welles astonishing, vibrant debut serves to dazzle still. Blindingly so.

Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25, 21:00-22:50 - Arena: The Orson Welles Story (Part 1); First of a fine two-part profile of Orson Welles, premiered on the BBC in 1982, looking at his life and career in theatre, radio and particularly film. With Jeanne Moreau, John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Wise, Charlton Heston, and a detailed interview with Welles himself. This part deals with his work up to Touch of Evil.

Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25, 22:50-24:00 - Journey Into Fear; A nightmarish tale of espionage and treachery in Istanbul, as an American arms dealer goes on the run from the Gestapo during the Second World War. Orson Welles, who acts the role of a corrupt chief of the Turkish secret police, wrote the script with co-star Joseph Cotten, and, while Mercury Theatre alumni Norman Foster is credited as director, it was Welles who oversaw the production, and also shared directorial responsibilities, dashing from the set of ‘Ambersons’ and back again. Adapted from a novel by Eric Ambler.

Boxing Day, Saturday, Dec. 26, 19.00-19:15 - The Orson Welles Sketchbook; Series of talks by Orson Welles, illustrated by his own sketches.

Boxing Day, Saturday, Dec. 26, 19.15-21:00 - The Third Man; Classic Graham Greene thriller set in a shattered and divided post-WW2 Vienna where American writer Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) is invited by his friend Harry Lime (Welles), only to find that Lime is dead. However, all is not what it seems - a mysterious ‘third man’ was seen tending to the dying Lime. But who was he?

The Third Man

Carol Reed is the genius behind the camera on this occasion, Graham Greene wrote the screenplay, graciously allowing Welles to slip in the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech, obviously recognising a bloody good line when he hears it. Of all the films in this season, this is the one that bears the least imprimatur of the legendary producer, writer, director (and sherry salesman); but for all that, it’s one with which he is famously connected. It speaks volumes for Welles sheer star power, and Reed’s masterly handling of that star. Fabulously entertaining.

I do not suppose I shall be remembered for anything. But I don’t think about my work in those terms. It is just as vulgar to work for the sake of posterity as to work for the sake of money.

Orson Welles

Sunday, Dec. 27, 20.00-21:30 - The Magnificent Ambersons; Period drama telling the story of a wilful son of the proud Amberson family who destroys his mother’s hopes of marrying her first love - a recent widower. Refusing to move with the times, he not only causes his mother to suffer but also brings about his own financial ruin. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, and famously edited in Welles absence (he was in Rio filming a never to be completed documentary) by Robert Wise, who, at the studio’s insistence, hacked an hour or so from Orson’s original cut. What’s left is wonderful, what could have been is tantalisingly missing, though if they can find the missing scenes from Metropolis, who knows what may turn up one day? I’m an eternal optimist. Warners have been threatening to release the film in the US for a couple of years now in a special edition home video set, blaming a search for the ‘best elements’ on the delay. If it ends up in their benighted ‘Archive’, Orson will haunt the grounds of Burbank, rattling old film cans and intoning ‘pressed discs you bastaaaarrrrrds’ until those Brothers come to their senses.

Sunday, Dec. 27, 21.30-22:30 (repeated at 1.45am) - Orson Welles Over Europe; When Orson Welles went into self-imposed exile in Europe, he first found stardom with The Third Man and then immersed himself in challenging films, television, theatre and bullfighting. Hello AmericansSimon Callow, author of two fantastic volumes of biography on Welles (we await the third), trails the complex actor-director in what promises to be an authoritative and entertaining new documentary. Ideal companion piece to the Arena documentary that follows.

Sunday, Dec. 27, 23.00-23:55 - Arena: The Orson Welles Story (Part 2); Second of the two-part profile of Orson Welles, looking at films including The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story and F for Fake and discussing his many unfinished projects, including The Other Side of the Wind (which Peter Bogdanovich is currently completing on his one time house guest’s behalf) and Don Quixote.

Sunday, Dec. 27, 23.55-1:30 - The Stranger; In which a federal agent is assigned to track down an escaped Nazi war criminal, and eventually finds him in a small Connecticut village. Welles stars with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young, yet another of his movies missing up to half an hour of footage (thought to have been destroyed) and said to be one of Orson’s least favourites - nevertheless, a very watchable noir-ish thriller.

Monday, Dec. 28, 1.30-1:45 - The Orson Welles Sketchbook; The last in the series of talks by Orson Welles, illustrated by his own sketches.

Square Eyes; Bullets, Broads…and BBC 4 August 17, 2009

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Film General, Crime / Noir / Thriller, Square Eyes , 8 comments

The redoubtable BBC 4 is running a short film noir season this coming weekend with six movies shown Saturday and Sunday and no less than five screenings of a new hour long documentary presented by Matthew Sweet, The Rules of Film Noir.

All the offerings on display are from the genre’s golden period, all from Hollywood studios and featuring some of film noir’s finest…

Saturday August 22

19:30; Farewell My Lovely (aka Murder, My Sweet - 1944). Two years before Bogie’s indelible impersonation of Raymond Chandler’s crumpled detective in The Big Sleep, former crooner Dick Powell made a courageous career leap into the murky world of noir with his rather more battered and bruised version of Philip Marlowe. Private eye Marlowe is hired by ex-con Moose Malloy to find his girlfriend, embroiling the hard-boiled gumshoe in a plot which involves blackmail, murder, drugs, double cross… and delicious dollops of voice-over dialogue. Perhaps the most filmed of all Chandler’s stories (though sometimes heavily disguised; parts of the plot were even borrowed for a Bob Hope comedy vehicle), Powell and director Edward Dmytryk’s Farewell My Lovely boasts a grittiness only bettered by Dick Richards and Robert Mitchum 30 years later. Available on a rather nice R1 Warner DVD and a less impressive Universal disc in the UK.

21:00; The Rules of Film Noir. First showing of the new Elaine Pieper directed documentary. Also shown Sunday at 00.50, 0.3:35, 22:35, and Monday at 03:05. Through the lavish use of film archive and stylised graphics as punctuation, BBC Four’s one-hour documentary presents:“…an essential guide to one of the most influential movements in cinema history: dark, cynical Film Noir.” Let’s all hope it amounts to more than a little fluff.

22:00; The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Compelling and highly stylised (what else from director/writer Orson Welles?) tale of an Irish sailor who accompanies a beautiful woman and her husband on a sea cruise, and becomes a pawn in a game of murder. Includes labyrinthine plot twists and some breathtaking cinematography - particularly in the famous Hall of Mirrors scene. The cast includes Welles, as the sap Michael O’Hara, his then wife (but not for long) Rita Hayworth as the femme fatale, the wholly dependable Everett Sloane and William Alland is again uncredited as a reporter. Some read Welles own marital difficulties into a tale of deceptions and lies; it’s not impossible. Available in both R1 and R2 from Sony.

23:25; The Big Combo (1955). Stylish film noir about a police lieutenant (Cornel Wilde) who comes under pressure from a gang headed by a vicious thug (Richard Conte). He is helped by the gangster’s wife, jealous at her husband’s affair with another woman, who supplies him with information to help him close the net on his foe. Director Joseph H. Lewis hoped the Production Code would take less interest in a minor studio making Earl Holliman and Lee Van Cleef, as a pair of trigger men, not so obliquely gay.  He guessed right. I think I’m right in saying the only DVD incarnations available have been chucked on to DVD by slapdash PD merchants now that the R1 Image version is OOP.

Sunday August 23

01:50; Force of Evil (1948). Dark, brooding and cerebral drama from writer/director Abraham Polonsky about two brothers caught up in crime and corruption. An ambitious lawyer (the superb, doomed John Garfield) in search of materialistic gain begins work for a New York criminal mastermind, who plans to take over New York’s illegal lottery. The attorney serves his boss faithfully until he realises his own brother will fall victim to the plan. But it seems he may now be too involved to escape the gangster’s violent ends. Martin Scorsese hails this as one of noir’s forgotten masterpieces, but certainly it’s not under-appreciated by film fans. Beautifully written, acted and directed with a fine David Raskin score, R1 and R2 have to make do with slightly underpar transfers from Lionsgate and Metrodome respectively.

21:00; Build My Gallows High (aka Out Of The Past - 1947). Quintessential American noir which tells a grim, complex tale of love and betrayal. A failed detective (Robert Mitchum) falls for the mistress (Jane Greer) of a mobster to whom he is heavily in debt. When she double-crosses him and returns to the mobster, the detective changes his identity and drops out of sight. But the gangster still wants his money back, and he and the woman plot to lure the detective into a vengeful scenario. Daniel Mainwaring wrote and literate and intelligent script from his own novel, Jacques Tourneur directs with aplomb, both Mitchum and Greer are on top form; also features Kirk Douglas and Rhonda Fleming. Warner delivered the DVD goods in R1, Universal, once again, had to make do with sloppy seconds in R2.

23:30; Stranger on The Third Floor (1940). Rarely screened Boris Ingster helmed psychological drama (for RKO) and touted by some as the first noir. The testimony of an ambitious reporter (John McGuire) helps to convict a young man (Elisha Cook Jr.) of murder, but the newspaper man has second thoughts about his contribution when he finds himself in the dock while a homicidal maniac is on the loose. Peter Lorre is top billed but while he has little to do, he does so effectively in this short (64 minutes) proto-noir. The only DVD out there appears to be a Spanish offering from Manga, but not having seen it, I can’t vouch for it.

Square Eyes; Citizen Kubrick… July 7, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Square Eyes , 4 comments

Fans of the film genius, the reclusive, the enigmatic, the elusive unto death (and beyond) Stanley Kubrick are in for a treat with the UK digital channel More4’s screening of a special season of films and documentaries dedicated to the great man, during the second half of July.

As well as screenings of seven of Kubrick’s movies (Barry Lyndon, Paths of Glory, Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing & The Shining) the season features two rarely seen early career short documentaries; Day of The Fight (1951) and from the same year Flying Padre.

The season also includes a brand new documentary, part of C4’s True Stories strand; Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, plus four ‘bitesize’ Kubrick shorts, Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes, presumably culled from the same filming sessions as their longer parent, on both Channel 4 and More 4, in the 3 Minute Wonder slot.

To promote the season Channel 4 has filmed a quite astounding promo, which was recently reported in The Guardian newspaper thus:

Channel 4 has painstakingly recreated the set of Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining, complete with look-a-likes of the crew and cast members including Shelley Duvall, for a TV ad to promote a More 4 season of the director’s films.

The 65-second promotional spot has been filmed as a one-take tracking shot through the recreation of The Shining set.

Viewers get Kubrick’s point of view as he walks through the set, ending up in his director’s chair as the crew prepare to shoot the famous scene of Danny Torrance, the son of Duvall and Jack Nicholson’s characters, riding round and round the deserted corridors of the Overlook Hotel.

The promo, filmed as a single tracking shot with a cast of 55 actors, was meticulously researched to “remain as faithful as possible to the period in which it was shot and the culture of the British studio in the late 1970s”.

Channel 4 Creative Services, the broadcaster’s in-house creative resource, cast people who resembled Kubrick’s own crew including his script lady, assistant director and director of production, John Alcott, who also worked on films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange with the director.

Look-a-likes were also found for Duvall, Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance, and the twin girls who appear fleetingly in the film.

Most of the equipment that appears in the promotional clip was actually used in the filming of The Shining.

Many of the props that appear, including the tricycle and Kubrick’s script, were produced for the promotional clip based on photos or sketches from the late director’s archives.

The spot, which was shot over two days at London’s Bray Studios, was filmed using a 25mm Cooke lens – a favourite of Kubrick’s.

The promo can be seen currently on C4 and More4, and on The Guardian website here.

The Citizen Kubrick season (a title More4 initially coined for the season, from Jon Ronson’s original Guardian article, but look to have dropped), starts on Monday July 14. The schedule:

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 14 July, 11:50am - 11:55am, Channel 4. Also 14 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Think Kubrick - Showing as part of More 4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the first of four short films concerning the late director. Members of Kubrick’s audience relate their fondest memories of his films.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 14 July, 11:55am - 12:00pm, Channel 4. Also 15 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Showing as part of More4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the second of four short films concerning the late director. Inspired by an actual callsheet from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, this film reconstructs the production meeting that took place prior to the callsheet being issued.

True Stories: Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008); 15 July, 10:00pm - 11:05pm, More4. A biography of a remarkably talented man as seen though the rich collection of material he left behind. Stanley Kubrick’s films were landmark events – majestic, memorable and richly researched. But, as the years went by, the time between films grew longer and longer, and less and less was seen of the director. What on earth was he doing?

Two years after Kubrick’s death, Jon Ronson was invited to the director’s estate to explore the hundreds of boxes the legendary film director had collected during his decades at Childwick Manor in Hertfordshire. He’s been returning ever since, and the story of Kubrick and the archive, now housed at University of the Arts London, is revealed in this fascinating documentary.

Ronson asks: is it possible to get to understand such a man – and his extraordinary working methods – by looking through the hundreds of boxes he left behind?

Day of the Fight (1951): 15 July, 11.05pm, More4. Documentary short. A day in the life of a middleweight Irish boxer named Walter Cartier, particularly the day of his bout with black middleweight Bobby James.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 16 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Showing as part of More 4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the third of four short films concerning the late director. This film features a sequence of references to his most iconic works.

Barry Lyndon (1975); 16 July, 11pm, More4. Kubrick’s oeuvre was never more lavish, ravishing or brilliantly eccentric than in his 18th Century story of pugnacious Irish chancer Barry Lyndon, a man with a talent for money and appearances, but with a crippling lack of love in his heart.

Barry Lyndon was a box office flop on its first release. Perhaps after the spacey future pyschedelia of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the teen malcontent of A Clockwork Orange, this painterly adaptation of an obscure picaresque novel was a leap too far for contemporary audiences. Nevertheless, it’s a tour de force, with the director pushing the limits of film technology to realise his singular vision, developing new camera lenses to tell this 18th Century cautionary tale with only natural, available light.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 17 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Overlook - Showing as part of More4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the last of the four short films concerning the late director. An exploration of the ghostly continuity photos from The Shining.

Paths of Glory (1957); 17 July, 11:55am, More4. A story designed to make the blood boil: blameless French soldiers carry the can for their superiors’ mistakes after a botched WWI assault. A work of genius from Kubrick, with a brilliant performance from Kirk Douglas.

Paths Of Glory was the first time Stanley Kubrick got to work with a major star - and in the late 1950s, stars didn’t come any more major than Kirk Douglas. He championed this ‘hard to sell’ anti-war film to the Hollywood studios, and bankrolled the 28-year-old tyro director who, with his growing reputation, still had it all to prove in Hollywood. And with his indignant performance Douglas provides an emotional counterbalance to Kubrick’s chilly, conceptual style.

Flying Padre (1951); 18 July, 12.55pm, More4. Documentary short. Two days in the life of priest Father Fred Stadtmuller whose New Mexico parish is so large he can only spread goodness and light among his flock with the aid of a mono-plane.

Lolita (1962); 18 July, 9pm, More4. Kubrick’s controversial and deeply ironic black comedy stars James Mason as a middle aged professor obsessed with a precociously sexual minor. Adapted by Nabokov from his own novel
In filming a book derided at the time as paedophiliac pornography, Kubrick put both his artistic and commercial reputation on the line, but the result is a sophisticated and moving tragi-comedy riddled with queasy wit.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); 19 July, 1.30pm, More4. We know what the year 2001 looks like now, and it didn’t look much like Kubrick’s vision. But 2001: A Space Odyssey itself still looks immaculate. Spectacular, trailblazing and philosophical, it’s an undisputed masterpiece.

Kubrick, cinema’s chilliest genius, abandons conventional narrative here and presents a succession of beautifully-composed sketches on the theme of evolution, death and rebirth linked by the mystical presence of a large black monolith.

Killer’s Kiss (1955); 21 July, 11.30pm, More4. Stanley Kubrick’s stylish second feature, shot on a shoestring but a clear indication of the great things to come. Intricately plotted, it tells the story of a has-been boxer who falls for a beautiful broad with a violent boyfriend.

With three documentaries and one self-buried feature under his belt, Kubrick wrote, directed, co-produced and edited this film noir for just $75,000. The result might be primitive by the meticulous standards the director would later apply, but it remains an inventive evocation of time and place with some spectacularly sinister visual flourishes.

The Killing (1956); 23 July, 12.05am, More4. Tightly plotted heist-goes-wrong thriller with which established the reputation of legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Sterling Hayden stars as an icy ex-con masterminding a robbery at a race track. His meticulous plan is to create a distraction by shooting the favourite horse during a race, muscle into the course’s counting house and flee with the wedge before you can say “and they’re under starter’s orders.”

The Shining (1980); 25 July, 9pm, More4. Stanley Kubrick’s atmospheric adaptation of a Stephen King tale. Jack Nicholson stars, in maniacal, terrifying form in Stanley Kubrick’s Gothic chiller. Aspiring-writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson) accepts a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel during an icy Oregon winter so he can write his book. But the hotel has a macabre history that soon begins to worm its way into the present through the medium of his psychic son, Danny.

There are some reports of More4 also screening the 1953 documentary The Seafarers, Kubrick’s first colour feature which for 40 years was thought lost, but sadly this appears to have been removed from the More4 schedules. Keep your eyes open just in case there’s a change of heart and it is in fact screened on the night of Tuesday, July 15.

Stanley Kubrick’s archive is now housed at the University of the Arts London.

Square Eyes; Two More Short Film Seasons From The Beeb… June 26, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Square Eyes , 8 comments

Following up the Westerns Weekend and the British B Movies Week (more of a long weekend, I suppose, than a week, but let’s not nitpick), BBC 4 continues its summer films season with two more helpings.

This weekend the digital channel plumps for a Courtroom Dramas Weekend, the three - count ‘em - movie showings tethered together with another 90 minute documentary Strictly Courtroom; after Rich Hall’s invigorating look at the western and Matthew Sweet’s entertaining and informative look at the cheap and cheerful, it looks as if we could be in for something a little more mundane with the choice of actor Martin Shaw to present.

Nothing against Mr Shaw per se; I think he’s a fine thesp, but I’ve got a sneaking feeling that he’s been chosen less for his expertise and enthusiasm and more for the fact that he’s TV’s Judge John Deed. Still, you never know; as I discovered with Hall’s How The West Was Lost, these things should not necessarily be prejudged - and some of the interviewees look interesting. The blurb:

Actor Martin Shaw narrates a documentary which looks at how trials have been portrayed on the silver screen in the past century, from 12 Angry Men and Alfred Hitchcock’s [sic] Anatomy of A Murder to A Few Good Men and George Clooney’s Michael Clayton. Contributors include Geoffrey Robertson QC, OJ Simpson’s defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz, author and advocate Scott Turow and death row campaigner Clive Stafford Smith.

The blurb writer has clearly got his directors in a twist; let’s hope the error didn’t originate with Beeb. Alas poor Otto…

The season gets under way this Saturday, June 28, at 7.00pm with Stanley Kramer’s 1960 Oscar-nominated screen adaptation of the notorious 1925 Tennessee ‘Monkey Trial’, Inherit The Wind, in which a young teacher stood accused of violating state law by teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. A quite fabulous cast including Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, Florence Eldridge, Dick York, Donna Anderson and Harry Morgan.

On Sunday Sidney J. Furie’s 1962 courtroom drama The Boys, shown last summer as part of the Beeb’s Festival of British Film, gets another airing. Four youths are accused of murdering a nightwatchman. The defence attempts to persuade the jury that the boys are guilty of a crime of passion and should not be executed - stars Richard Todd, Robert Morley, Felix Alymer, Dudley Sutton, Ronald Lacey & Tony Garnett.

Finally, on Monday night is Sidney Lumet’s wonderful The Verdict, from 1982, with Paul Newman (giving one of his finest performances), James Mason, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden and Milo O’Shea. An ambulance-chasing lawyer attempts to regain some integrity from one final case - a medical malpractice suit for a woman who lies in a coma. With his career fading, he has turned to drink for solace and finds himself in court facing one of the toughest lawyers in the country. An adaptation of Barry Reed’s novel, scripted by David Mamet.

As usual, Strictly Courtroom gets several outings; full details here.

The following weekend, and starting Saturday July 5, it’s British War Films - at 9.00pm look out for the documentary War Stories: Uncovering forgotten gems like Frieda and revisiting classics like Ice Cold in Alex, an exploration into how war films have changed with the times. They were a tool of government propaganda during WW2, and while the blockbusters of the1950s were part of national nostalgia, today they have been rediscovered and become celebrated icons of British culture.

No news on the presenter as yet, and it will, again, get several showings. Films in the season are:

We Dive at Dawn (kicking off the season on Saturday, July 5 at 7.30pm). Anthony Asquith’s World War II drama about a mission to hunt and destroy a dangerous German battleship in the Baltic which goes wrong when the British submarine runs short on fuel. Stars John Mills and Eric Portman.

The First of The Few (Saturday, July 5 at 10.35pm). Offered contracts and any number of enticing star roles after Gone with the Wind, Leslie Howard chose to leave Hollywood and return to England to make films designed to boost wartime morale. Here, he directs and stars as visionary aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell, the father of the Spitfire. The fine cast includes Rosamund John as his wife and David Niven as the test pilot, while William Walton’s score sums up an entire era of flying pictures. It was Howard’s final screen performance: his plane was shot down in 1943 on a mission that immediately became shrouded in mystery.

Ill Met By Moonlight (Sunday, July 6, 9.00pm). Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1958 war movie. I quote the Radio Times:Dirk Bogarde is on stirring form as a British officer given the task of working with the partisans in occupied Crete to kidnap the local German commander (Marius Goring), in a tale loosely based on a real operation in the Second World War. Fine acting, rugged scenery and a trenchant score all add to the film’s attractions. The Americans gave it the more prosaic title of Night Ambush.

Not my favourite P&P, but I’ve said it before, even second rate Powell & Pressburger is worth a watch. The RT insist, by the way, that Powell & Pressburger were not famed for their war films. Oh, really..?

Overlord (Monday, July 7, 10.00pm). Made over a period of several years and finally released in 1975; stars Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball and Julie Neesam. The RT doesn’t reckon much to Stuart Cooper’s labour of love: Made with the co-operation of the Imperial War Museum, this account of the D-Day landings attempts to convey the grim reality of the soldier’s lot by combining newsreel footage with dramatic re-enactments. Unfortunately, too much time was spent rooting out clips and not enough on the script, which is a collection of clichéd ideas and utterances. Director Stuart Cooper - who, as an actor, played one of the original Dirty Dozen in the wartime blockbuster of the same name - seems content to allow his cast to remain inanimate, while his presentation of the combat sequences comes dangerously close to suggesting war may be hell, but is also grotesquely beautiful. A bold venture, but poorly executed.

Or as Criterion state: Seamlessly interweaving archival war footage and a fictional narrative, Stuart Cooper’s immersive account of one twenty-year-old’s journey from basic training to the front lines of D-day brings all the terrors and isolation of war to life with jolting authenticity. Overlord, impressionistically shot by Stanley Kubrick’s longtime cinematographer John Alcott, is both a document of World War II and a dreamlike meditation on man’s smallness in a large, incomprehensible machine.

All I can say is that if you haven’t seen it before, make an effort to do so; the Radio Times reviewer may have a point, but it is indeed a bold venture, and it is at times utterly gorgeous, with a climax that’s long telegraphed but still packs a wallop. It’s rarely shown on terrestrial TV; it’s highly recommended, if you not possess either the fine R1 Criterion or R2 Metrodome DVD sets. On that basis alone Overlord must not be dismissed.

The British War Films Weekend is yet to show on the BBC 4 website, but a quick search in a few days will bring you up the full schedule no doubt, should you wish to prepare your recorders.

Square Eyes; British B Movie Week on BBC 4 June 16, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Square Eyes , 4 comments

BBC 4 follows up last week’s Westerns Weekend with British B Movie Week starting next Saturday, June 21, featuring a number of movies rarely aired on British television and none of them available on DVD, to my knowledge, this side of The Pond.

Author and film historian Matthew Sweet introduces the films and hosts a new 90-minute documentary Truly, Madly, Cheaply reappraising over half a century of British B movies, from John Mills on the wrong end of a whipping in The Lash through to the giant gorilla Konga running amok in Croydon. Sweet argues that the cheapness of these films, unlike the A film, ensured they often portrayed Britain as it really was, even when (as in the case of 1970s sex movies) that wasn’t necessarily a nice place to be. Features interviews with the people behind the films including Sir John Mortimer, Patricia Laffan and Michael Winner. Truly, Madly, Cheaply will be shown several times during the short season.

Amongst the films being aired are quota-quickies from Michael Powell and Bernard Vorhaus, through to a cheap and cheerful Hammer style 70s zombie-bikers flick. They are:

The Last Journey; John Brahm and Bernard Vorhaus co-directed this 1936 portmanteau thriller. A train driver driven mad with jealousy after discovering his wife’s affair, embarks on his last journey before he retires. Should be the BBC’s restored and remastered version from National Film and Television Archive materials. Kicking off the week at 7.30pm on June 21.
Lazybones; Michael Powell’s 1935 65-minute romantic comedy, made at Twickenham Film Studios. Ian Hunter is cast as Sir Reginald Ford, an extremely idle baronet who, along with his titled father, is also completely penniless. Seeking a solution to his lack of solvency, Ford pursues American heiress Kitty McCarthy (Claire Luce)… The plot is predictable, but the film nevertheless displays the first hints of Powell’s inimitable style.

Psychomania; Don Sharp’s 1973 kitchy horror. The members of The Living Dead gang commit suicide believing they will become immortal, but things don’t turn out quite as they expect. Nicky Henson has a hoot as the Angel from Hell, and he is superbly supported by Beryl Reid as his devil-worshipping mum and George Sanders (alternately fighting off yawns, knowing winks and blushes) as her ghoulish butler. This British horror cheapie ends up so ridiculous, it works. It was available on DVD in R1 courtesy of Image Entertainment, sadly now OOP, but a couple of places are still listing a very cheap (so probably nasty) 4:3 version from Geneon / Pioneer.
The Black Rider; Wolf Rilla directs this 1954 ‘boys own’ crime thriller. A reporter (Jimmy Hanley) investigating sightings of a strange hooded figure on a motorbike is led to a castle hideout for a group of smugglers. And they would have got away with it but for that pesky father of the former ’Magpie’ presenter…
Cover Girl Killer; another crime thriller, from Terry Bishop (1959). A series of murders of magazine cover-girls baffles the police. Starring Hary H Corbett in a rare straight role and Felicity Young.
Marilyn; known as Roadhouse Girl in the US, Wolf Rilla in the chair again for this pretty entertaining 1953 quickie. In a fit of jealousy over his wife (Sandra Dorne), a garage owner (Leslie Dwyer) gets into a fight with an employee (Maxwell Reed).

Full details available on the BBC 4 website here.

Square Eyes; Showing Very Soon… June 13, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Square Eyes , add a comment

For digitally equipped UK based telly viewers, there’s a feast of westerns on BBC 4 this weekend that you might like to take note of.

As well as two-thirds of the ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ and two of the very finest John Ford / John Wayne collaborations (as I write that, I’m mindful that Ford would bristle at the suggestion…) - Fort Apache, essentially Ford’s coruscating take on Custer and featuring some breathtaking monochrome cinematography courtesy of Archie Stout, plus the Technicolor splendour (the Beeb print allowing) of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon - BBC 4 is showing Ford’s brilliantly realised Wagon Master, just released by Universal in the UK, with a fair to middling transfer, but unavailable in R1.

Kicking off the short season, at 7.30pm on Saturday June 14 is Sam Fuller’s superb Run of The Arrow, as yet sadly unavailable on DVD either side of The Pond, with Rod Steiger somehow managing to spellbind despite another of his ’Oirish’ accents that are as authentic as Guinness brewed in Cleveland. Alex Cox’s 2007 comedy drama Searchers 2.0 gets its first terrestrial telly outing on Monday, June 16, and you’ll also find a smattering of documentaries - a repeat for Reputations: John Wayne, a look at the life and times of The Duke, but I quake a little at the prospect of the newly minted How the West Was Lost in which: “…Comedian Rich Hall looks at classic westerns from Buffalo Bill to Unforgiven, and sees their influence on films such as Reservoir Dogs and Taxi Driver.”

Hey; western fandom is a serious business…full details of the Westerns Weekend on the BBC 4 website here.

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