Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The C To F Of Groovy Movies

Part two of a series of ... however many this blogger decides to post ...
Canterbury Tale, A (1949): Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's allegorical fable of modern day Chaucer-like pilgrimage, as three very different people (Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, John Sweet) walk the quiet parochial back roads of post-war Kent in search of a sense of belonging. Like all of Powell and Pressburger's movies, the women characters are strong and intelligent, the men noble and caring and the dialogue breathtaking ('There is more that one way of getting close to your ancestors. Follow the Old Road and as you do, think of them; they climbed Chillingbourne Hill just as you did'). Sweet-natured, gentle and unique. There is, quite simply, no other film like this.
Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1972): Colourful, exciting and full of action and symbolism, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter has a dreamy, acquiescent, fairy-tale quality to it. Kronos, like a king in exile, rides through the frightened countryside, with his loyal friend and a beautiful girl, doing a bit of righteous ethnic cleansing on any vampires he meets. It's every schoolboy's dream, isn't it? Horst Janson is perfectly cast as the pot-smoking superhero swordsman, whilst the rest of the cast (particularly Caroline Munro, John Cater and John Carson) give some great support. A series of sequels, each set in different time periods, was planned by Brian Clemens but, sadly, this never happened. Indeed, Captain Kronos only emerged in 1974, two years after it was made, for a brief run as a support feature to a kung-fu movie called The Girl With the Thunderbolt Kick. As has been noted elsewhere, the concept would have made a fabulous TV series.
Captain Clegg (1962): Released as Night Creatures in the US, this remake of Dr Syn marks the high point of Hammer's brief - and only occasionally successful - foray into the world of pirate adventure. Cushing and Lee are at their swaggering, swashbuckling best in a tale of Cornish smugglers and dark secrets and there's a terrific role in it for a very young and very pretty Ollie Reed.
Carry On Cleo (1964): Probably the best known, and certainly the most quoted of the Carry On films ("Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!") A madcap round-the-houses adaptation of Julius Caeser with Kenny Williams and Charles Hawtrey at their campest, Sid James's laugh at its dirtiest, Joan Sims's cleavage at its largest and Old Pertwee going so far over the top he's down the other side. Amanda Barrie is a disturbingly sexy schoolgirlish Cleopatra. Full of groan-inducing jokes ('I'm Spencerus. That's my brother, Marcus. We're in partnership now!') and silly characters and totally lovable for it. "Saluté!"
Carry On Screaming (1966): Easily the best of the Carry On movies as the usual suspects take apart the Hammer success story in search for laughs. You get what you usually get - every mad-scientist joke imaginable (and a few that aren't), Kenny Williams, Charlie Hawtrey and Pertwee overacting disgracefully and Jim Dale doing "bewildered" better than any else in screen history. A touch of class in this one, however, is provided by Harry H Corbett. And, it's worth it for the "foul feet smell something horrible" joke alone. "Frying tonight!"
Casablanca (1942): "Round up the usual suspects." Peerless, legendary war-time melodrama. Once-in-a-lifetime cast, a script that most movie buffs can recite word-for-word, that song. Memorable for all the right reasons - including the curious ambiguity of some of the character motivations. And, the bit when Bogie stands on the balcony and nods and all the French start singing 'La Marseilles' remains one of cinema's finest moments.
Charge Of The Light Brigade, The (1968): A challenging violently anti-war movie and with one of the best scripts of Charles Wood's career (the writer noted that, since he didn't know how people talked in the 1850s, he made up his own syntax which then sounded so authentic that just about every period movie and TV show since has ripped it off). Stunning battle sequences and a genuine sense of the confusion and madness of war - look into David Hemmings' eyes as he leads the six hundred into battle and you can see the naked bloodlust. Natasha and Joely Richardson's film debuts (as children in their mother's wedding party).
Clockwork Orange, A (1972): Hugely controversial Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Anthony Burgess's classic futurist nightmare. Not as violent (or, actually, as disturbing) as its droogy reputation suggested during the twenty five years when you couldn't see the damn thing (unless you lived in France). Horrorshow. The satire of the original has also lessened through time, although the acting (Malcolm McDowell and Warren Clarke, especially) is never less that brilliant. Memorable script - 'show us yer yarbles if, indeed, y'have any yarbles to show!' - and redolent with Wendy Carlos's influential electronic score. Now you can get it on DVD, viddy well my brothers.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The (1977): Steven Spielberg's huge, epic, humanist evocation of mankind's first contact with extra terrestrial life. if any movie could be said to justify the term iconic, this is it. A template for every SF movie made since (those that look nothing like it are a reaction to it). Watch the skies, we are not alone.
Club, The (1980): Hilarious, pointedly personal Bruce Beresford movie about the behind the scenes politics and personal strife affecting an Australian Rules football club. Stars nobody you'd have ever heard of but the cast are quite brilliant in this naturalistic and absorbing social drama. Plenty of laughs too.
Comfort and Joy (1984): Off-beat Bill Forsyth movie about warring Glasgow families in the ice cream industry - based on a true story - in which a local radio presenter (Bill Paterson) becomes involved. Like all of Forsyth's movies (Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero), a mixture of eccentricity, charm and wry humour. All this, plus Clare Grogan. "What's your great contribution to society, then?!"
Corpse, The (1969): This ambitious, multi-layered little British chiller with a script by actor Olaf Pooley had absolutely zero budget, but what it lacked in that department it more than made up for in terms of striking atmosphere and conceptual depth. The Corpse is not based upon the most original of concepts but it is extraordinarily well-written and superbly acted. Has there ever been a more believable screen villain than Michael Gough's performance here? A character of malevolence and mediocrity far removed for supernatural monsters. An inscrutable parody of domestic banality, The Corpse reveals the tensions and sordid details beneath the surface of traditional English middle-class family values. And it does so with a sense of righteous outrage at the rampant hypocrisy that it finds squatting in the darkness. US Title: Crucible of Horror.
Cruel Sea, The (1953): Realistic, tense and admirably balanced view of the pressures of Royal Navy life during WWII based on the classic Nicholas Monsarrat novel. Steller performances (Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Deholm Elliott, Stanley Baker).
Cul-De-Sac (1966): Repulsion made his reputation in the West, but Roman Polanski really only came of age with this, his second England-language movie. Filmed on the windswept Northumberland coast and featuring an intriguingly ambiguous plot, the movie depends for much of its atmosphere on Donald Pleasance and Jack MacGowan's effortless mastery of a macabre script.
Curse Of Frankenstein, The (1956): A colour zeitgeist smashes its way into the previously formulaic and monochrome world of the English gothic cinema. After this, things would never be the same again - for Hammer, or for anyone else working within the genre. Considering how spat-upon it was at the time of release, The Curse of Frankenstein seems quite tame by today's standards. There's remarkably little gore in the film and rather too much talk, although Terence Fisher's experimental use of vivid reds and garish greens was revolutionary for its time. The first half of the narrative, for all the melodramatic dialogue and stilted romantic subplot, is brilliantly carried by Cushing's impressively foppish, Byronesque Victor. From the point where the creature is raised, however (a breathtaking sequence), Lee takes over. His shambling, pathetic monster is a cunning mixture of pathos and naked aggression and is utterly riveting to watch. Curse - whether it realised it or not - was part of a cultural movement that helped to shake Britain from its dreary post-war lethargy and push it, perhaps unwillingly, towards a bright new era. It is not, entirely, without foundation to suggest that the 1960s, in all of its varied forms, started here.
Curse Of The Werewolf, The (1960): Weeping eyes fill the screen at the beginning of Terence Fisher's beautifully designed film and set the visual agenda for what follows dramatically. A huge influence on future Lycanthrope movies, The Curse of the Werewolf's cluttered script, sexually aggressive conceits and, occasionally, inelegant stubs at outré visual forms conspire to exact a heavy price. These, and other aesthetic drawbacks, render the film somewhat gauche beside The Mummy's groundbreaking and urbane recontextualisation of Hammer's basic monster-movie format, and positively anaemic compared to the sophisticated metaphors and depth of Dracula. Nevertheless, there is much to admire in Curse's doomed romance subplot and, best of all, Oliver Reed's tortured central performance. The plot includes much subtle socio-political observation, via the cruel oppression of the peasantry (note, also, that only men seem to have been invited to the Marques' wedding celebrations - so it's a patriarchal world as well as a capitalist one). The movie is also immeasurably aided by Roy Ashton's fabulous make-up job on Reed. One of Hammer's finest.
Dam Busters, The (1955): Almost documentary-like movie about the development and subsequent deployment of the "bouncing bomb" used by the RAF in a spectacular and hugely successful raid on the Ruhr valley. Michael Redgrave is brilliant as Barnes Wallis, Richard Todd even better as Guy Gibson. Considering it was made a mere 10 years after the war ended, there's a surprisingly heartfelt anti-war feel to it. " If I'd known it was going to be like this, I'd never have started." Watch out for Patrick McGoohan in a tiny walk-on role.
Devil Rides Out, The (1967): Hammer's sumptuous adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's text benefits from two magnificent performances - Christopher Lee and Charles Gray - and from some of Terence Fisher's most memorable set-pieces. Highlights include a lengthy car chase through the twisting greenbelt Hertfordshire lanes involving beautiful vintage motors like an episode of The Avengers. The Devil Rides Out remains one of the most intelligent, ruminative and elegant horror movies ever made - in Britain, or anywhere else for that matter - and is still both an unnerving and riveting experience for the viewer.
Dial 'M' For Murder (1954): Hitchcock at his most playful and entertaining. A slick, if slightly stagy adaptation of Frederick Knott's suspense thriller featuring terrific performances by Ray Milland, Grace Kelly and especially the excellent John Williams.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Despite the fact that it features a different Bond, Diamonds and Live and Let Die feel like part one and two of the same movie (same director and writer - Guy Hamilton and Tom Mankiewicz - and, for a certain age group giving Europeans their first image of America as a giant sleazy funfair full of supervillains, hip jive-talkin' afro-wearing black gangsters and beautiful women). Connery is terrific in his final two hours in the role and Charles Gray is a dryly wondrous Blofeld. "I'm Plenty." "Of course you are!" Dirty. And funny. And the car chases are epic.
Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, The (1972): Luis Buñuel's complex, virtually plotless web of dreams within dreams, centered around a group of six middle class people and their frequently thwarted attempts to have a good meal. A pointed allegory of Western Capitalism, wonderfully cast (Fernando Rey, Stéphane Audran) and bitingly funny - if majorly weird in parts.
Dracula AD '72 (1972): One of the most hilariously dated movies of any era - by having a specific date as part of the film's title, it is forever trapped within a time capsule. Yet, perhaps because of this, A.D. 1972 has aged so utterly terribly that it has transcended its humble origins to become little short of a comedy masterpiece. Exploitation cinema is always at its finest when polemic and dogma meet head-on and, instead of producing the expected gestalt of social-comment, ends up with a mélange of clashing and fractious statements. You can tell that Don Houghton's script so desperately wants to be a serious, po-faced observation on important youth culture issues. Instead, by the sheer banality of its construction, the film comes over as full of unexpected laughs at, literally, every turn. However, that said, a word of genuine praise: Dick Bush's cinematography, particularly during the title sequence with zoom-lens shots of the concrete jungle that London had become, is just gorgeous. Watch this one with a few friends, a bottle of wine and a Chinese takeaway on a Friday night and thank God that you weren't born in the 1870s and, thus, never got the chance to see incompetent genius like this. If life was a party, then I'd rather like it to be the one at the beginning of Dracula AD 1972 - with top beat combo Stoneground playing 'Alligator Man' in my front room. 'Dig the music, kids!'
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968): From the epic blood-soaked titles, through some memorable set-pieces, to a gruesome climax, Freddie Francis brings change to Terence Fisher's established Transylvannian world. Such sacrilege horrified many admirers of the earlier Dracula movies but Risen is a film for a different audience and a different age. Some of Francis's experiments work better than others - the incessant use of amber camera-filters distracts the viewers after a while. Nevertheless remains a handsomely assembled example of the company working -close to their artistic peak.
Dr. No (1962): The film that launched the longest-running movie franchise of all time. Connery is brilliant and Ursula coming out of the sea is one of cinema's most iconic moments. if you didn't want to carry a Walther PPK and drink vodka martinis after watching this there was, frankly, something wrong with you.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1964): An endearingly brilliant time-capsule and a prototype for the next decade of Amicus's contribution to the genre. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors remains, not only the best title for just about any horror film ever made, but also the king of anthology movies. Not that it doesn't have some weak elements within its arsenal of strengths. Undeniably, Milton Subostky's script sometimes goes for belly-laughs when Freddie Francis was attempting to create a mood of minimalist suspense. But the most frequently criticised segment - Voodoo - is actually one of the best and not in an ironic or post-modern way, either. With its, truly, once-in-a-lifetime cast (Cushing, Lee plus Roy Castle, Fluff Freeman and Donald Sutherland!), and a tongue-in-cheek approach to many horror sacred cows, it is all the more surprisingly that the movie's ending is so very downbeat. 'Have you not guessed?' says Schreck when asked who he is. An occasionally a glib and whimsical piece but, overall, never-less-than wholly entertaining and as an example of a curiously British mixture of horror and wry humour, it's an almost definitive text. 'Aw, man, y'don't wanna mess around with dat voodoo!'
Eagle Has Landed, The (1976): Ambitious adaptation of the Frederick Forsyth novel about a German plot to kidnap Churchill. Directed by John Sturges and with a stellar cast (Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence, Jean Marsh, Larry Hagman). Told with a balance often missing in war movies. A humane and intelligent action movie would appear to be something of a contradiction but it's what we've got here. Sutherland is particularly brilliant.
Easy Rider (1969): Hip, insightful, influential road movie about hippies in search of America and made at a time when such a concept seemed not only valid but necessary. Those who got it, loved it, those who didn’t weren’t so much a square as a rhombus. Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson are great, the acid trip sequence still has the power to really disturb and the soundtrack remains a classic. Time has dimmed its relevance but the ending remains truly shocking to first-time viewers.
Elephant Man, The (1980): David Lynch's stylish monochrome recreation of a Victorian Gothic in this story of disfigured circus freak John Merrick (John Hurt). Tony Hopkins and Freddie Jones are superb in supporting roles. Marvel at Freddie Francis' award-winning cinematography. "People are frightened by what they don't understand."
Excalibur (1981): As close to being the definitive movie version of Arthurian legend as anyone as yet managed. John Boorman's fine, often enchanting film features the one thing normally missing from such a serious text - humour. Nicol Williamson is spectacularly good as a wild-eyed, "God-I-never-expected-that-to-work!" Merlin. Cherlie Lunghi is gorgeous as Guenevere.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Excellent Francoise Truffaut reworking of Ray Bradbury's authoritarian nightmare. Told in a quiet, somewhat unemotional style than some critics loathe but which, actually, works hugely in favour of the opaque, soulless world that Julie Christie and Oskar Werner are a part of. The sequence in the field where character declare themselves to be the books that the authorities have tried to ban and burn is truly life-affirming.
F For Fake (1974): Amazingly watchable - and often hilarious - quasi-documentary from Orson Welles, supposedly about master forger Elmyr de Hory but, actually, about the process of fakery itself. The amiable narrator wanders around the best restaurants of Europe with his young friends weaving in and out of the stories of Hory and Clifford Irving (the Howard Hughes hoaxster). And remember, for sixty minutes he's telling the truth but the movie is 85 minutes long! Original French title: Vérités et mensonges.
First Great Train Robbery, The (1979): Witty Victorian heist saga in which Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down conspire to pull off the titular caper with Avengers-like wit and charm. Gorgeous location filming in Ireland (doubling for the Home Counties). Lots of well known faces in the cast (Pamela Salem, Michael Elphick). Connery - showing the first signed on oncoming baldness! - is *terrific* ('I've just returned from America, a country of many prominent erections!').
Fish Called Wanda, A (1988): Amusing if, perhaps, slightly over-rated comedy about a botched bank job. Charles Crichton directs with patience and flair and, whilst Cleese is by turns funny and irritating, Michael Palin steals the movie as the hapless animal loving bank robber who seems fated to spend the entire moving accidentally killing animals.
Fisher King, The (1991): One from the heart from Terry Gilliam. A beautiful movie about regret and redemption in which Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams act their little cotton socks off to a wonderful soundtrack. Mercedes Ruehl picked up a supporting Oscar for her sweet performance. Often described as a modern day fairy tale but it isn't, really. Rather it's about the depth of human compassion. Recommended to everyone with an intact soul.
Fistful Of Dynamite, A (1972): The fifth, and least well known of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, which is a tragedy, frankly as this brilliantly comedic Mexican Revolution saga makes the most of it's epic scope and stunning direction. But, the casting of Rod Steiger as a Zapata-style revolutionary and James Coburn as an IRA-man whom he befriends is genius. Terrific Ennio Moricone score. Also known as Duck, You Sucker!
Four Musketeers, The (1974): The second of Dick Lester's Musketeer trilogy is possibly an even better film than The Three Musketeers despite on-set disagreements and subsequent court cases! There, genuinely, are few things in life more entertaining than watching Ollie Reed trying to fence (except, possibly, watching Ollie Reed try to sing - see Tommy).
From Here to Eternity (1953): Tough, resonant and very popular movie set on the eve of Pearl Harbour. Most remembered these days for the infamous and influential "beach scene" with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr frolicking in the surf. Great support cast - Frank Sinatra is particularly impressive (how he got the part is the subject of legends and plotlines in The Godfather!); Monty Clift is terrific too.
Groovy Movies will return in The G to ... whatever of Groovy Movies.

1 comment:

Inigo Pipkin said...

Whaddya mean there's no-one you've ever heard of in 'The Club.' Jack Thomson's in it FFS!!!!!