The Weekly Summary #5

from2Repeats. Don’t you just hate them? Well, the bane of British Summer Television arrives early; here’s the (few) things I watched this past week-

First Man (2018) – 4K UHD

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – 4K UHD

From the Earth to the Moon (1998) (TV series Episodes 1 – 4) – Blu-ray

The Dark Knight (2008) – 4K UHD

So there you go, nothing new at all. Well, it was one of those weeks I guess, but to be fair, I often look at all those films on my shelves and think, “yeah, I’d love to watch that again sometime” or, as in the case of From the Earth to the Moon (which I originally watched back in 1998), I looked at the Blu-ray edition which I bought back in -gasp, shudder- 2019 and realised I had STILL not watched it yet, other than my favourite episode, Spider, which I rate as one of my favourite hours of television, ever…

There’s certainly a value to returning to films and television shows, if only that it partly justifies having bought them on disc in the first place, as opposed to a rental fee or streaming something once for what we fool ourselves as ‘free’ on Amazon Prime or Netflix. I’ll be honest, I could forgo watching anything ‘new’ at all and just rewatch all those Hammer and Noir boxsets from Indicator, or all those TV boxsets I have like the BSG reboot, Fringe, Person of Interest, Chuck, Space:1999, UFO, The Prisoner…  there’s so many hours there and hey, I’d enjoy all of it. Maybe I should cancel my Netflix sub after all…

Of course, the other thing is rewatching films and revaluating them; was that film REALLY that good (or indeed was it really that bad)? Now, two of the films I rewatched are still fairly recent so I was hardly expecting to be surprised, and I wasn’t: First Man and Top Gun: Maverick were both as great as I remembered. Indeed, Maverick just amazed me again; it is so good a blockbuster entertainment- yes some of the dialogue was clunky, the plot never surprised and the romance felt as forced and unnecessary as it did first time around, but crikey, it just works so well, if only as, well, a blockbuster film. Is that damning it with faint praise?

The Dark Knight was more interesting. I hadn’t seen it for several years, and have seen Ben Affleck’s Batman since as well as Robert Pattinson’s Batman too. Its a sobering thought that I’ve seen two further caped crusaders since I last saw Christian Bale’s rendition (I expect another isn’t far away, either). I remember that, back in 2008, The Dark Knight was generally considered to be the best comicbook movie ever made, the definitive Batman, and I’m sure many still feel that way (for the record, I’ll always feel that Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is the definitive comicbook movie). What still holds true regards what makes The Dark Knight as special as it is, is Heath Ledger’s Joker; his performance still took my breath away, he was so good and certainly stole the film from everyone else (and will no doubt be the bane of every actor cast as the Joker, ever).

One thing I always thought, and still did when rewatching it last night, was regards Aaron Eckhart (who is brilliant as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, by the way). Dismiss me as crazy as the Joker, but I thought Eckhart would  have made for a great Batman. Its his jawline: he’d be brilliant in that Batman cowl, he’s so square-jawed he looks so like Brian Bolland’s Batman, and he’s got the build too. As unlikely as it might sound, just watch him in The Dark Knight and for a moment imagine him in the cowl etc. You might just be surprised.

As far as From the Earth to the Moon is concerned, the show holds up as well as ever. Its so well written. Every hour is just so well constructed. Its interesting that, as its over twenty years old now, the cast is some kind of time capsule of the great actors of its day, some of whom you might not know their names, but you know their faces, and some indeed who would go on to far greater things (such as Bryan Cranston with Breaking Bad, obviously). What I absolutely adore regards this show is its music: episodes composed by Michael Kame, Mark Isham, James Newton Howard,  Jeff Beal and other greats, this has some of the best music composed for any television series, and incredibly its never been given a proper soundtrack release. A terrible injustice. Maybe one day (hey, it took decades for that Star Trek: TOS complete box release).

So what’s coming next week? Well, I think we might be going Italian…

The supreme silliness of Jung_E

jung1Jung_E, Dir. Yeon Sang-ho, 2023, 98 mins, Netflix

I ended up writing a far too-lengthy post for Jung_E and while this edited version is still rather long I assure you that what you’re reading here is the abbreviated version. Sometimes its too easy to go on a long wild rant regards what is wrong with a film, and sometimes I have to wonder is it worth my time venting about bad films, or your time reading it? That’s if anyone really reads my rambling but hey, that’s by the by and not why I write it anyway, but editing never hurt anyone unless you’re Ridley Scott and your film is Kingdom of Heaven, so suffice to say this film is pretty poor, really, and a big disappointment with its “from the director of Train to Busan!” tagline.

Lets start with the good- Kim Hyun-joo, who plays titular protagonist Jung_E (as well as Captain Yun Jung-yi, which we’ll get to later) is really very good- an actress accomplished at the physical side of acting in the stunts and action sequences, but also very good at emoting in the character moments and giving the film a weight it doesn’t really deserve. If the film had just focused on her it would have been much better, but again, we’ll get into its lack of focus later.  She really is great, and… well, the film looks pretty for a fairly low-budget sci-fi, costing less than an average episode of Westworld or House of the Dragon, apparently. The sets are limited but the CGI is largely quite effective.

As for why the film proves to be so bad, well…

Funnily enough, that all starts with the films very beginning, with a lengthy information-dump in text describing the state of the 22nd Century Earth that has been rendered inhabitable by climate change, with humanity living in huge orbital habitats threatened by a lengthy civil war, but in curiously all of that proves entirely incidental to the plot. We don’t see anything of those opposing forces or how the war is going, anything of those orbital habitats. The film would function just fine without being told about any of it, and once we get outside of the city later in the film, the natural world looks okay and rather surprisingly recovered (indeed, a curious reminder of the daft theatrical ending of Blade Runner back in 1982).

It is so nonsensical. This is one of those daft sci-fi flicks that aims for some kind of sophistication and falls far short; its really nowhere near as clever as it seems to think it is. Contrary to the apocalyptic state the world is apparently in, there seems to be an endless supply of power and resources available; there’s no starving millions for example, which increasingly suggests that the premise has been ill-thought out. We are led to believe the war has been going on for more than thirty years, which probably makes it a wonder anyone is still around at all.

As for the plot… well it is similarly ill thought-out, and woefully convoluted.  Jung_E  is a robot programmed with a cyber brain copying the intellect, memories and character of ‘star’ fighter Captain Yun Jung-yi  who was killed in a battle thirty years prior and is now stored in a coma, from which her brain-patterns (or some such nonsense) are downloaded into the robot simulacra Jung_E. Jung_E thinks she is Captain Yun Jung-yi  and thinks the battle happened yesterday, unaware that she is no longer human: repeatedly she is put into trial simulations reliving her last battle, found wanting when she dies in each one, and disposed of, replaced with another model and trialled again. The reasoning seems to be if she can beat this simulation of her last battle then she’s a winner and they can put her on the production line.

Where the film gets side-tracked is that it is Captain Yun Jung-yi’s daughter, Seoyhun (played by Kang Soo-yeon, who sadly passed away before this film was released), a child when Jung-yi died/was put into a coma, who is the (now-adult, thirty years have passed, remember) scientist who is in charge of the project to turn her mother into a production line of robot warriors. There’s all sorts of mother-daughter relationship hysterics, the daughter emotionally damaged, angry at her mother deserting her as a child, presumably guilty over what she is now doing, while the unaware mother still seems to think her daughter is a child back home and desperate to get back to her.

Its all very busy with coincidences and complications that add little to the plot. Just think for one moment though- had the scientist not been her daughter, and the film itself focused more upon Jung_E questioning her identity, humanity and purpose (essentially the very cyberpunk idea that her personality/memories/skills are reduced to just intellectual property owned by a military corporation), wouldn’t that have been a much better, tighter-focused film? The child daughter left behind at home thirty years ago could still have been an interesting twist, when Jung_E learned that thirty years had indeed passed and her daughter was orphaned and is now an adult.

But here perhaps I’m giving the narrative more thought and consideration than did the films director, Yeon Sang-ho; as well as directing this film he also wrote it, and it is clearly one of those ‘director’s vision’ projects that suggests most directors should steer clear of the actual writing (if only someone would tell James Cameron he can’t write dialogue).

The weird thing is, I can imagine this thing being remade by Hollywood with a much simpler plot and starring Charlize Theron or somebody. I’d suggest Scarlett Johansson, but she’s already starred in that movie, it was called Ghost in the Shell, and thats the biggest failure of Jung_E; its all been done before, and better.

The Weekly Summary #4

wingsd2A more productive week this week (if you can calling watching films and tv shows productive). No discs though, funnily enough- it was all streaming or films recorded off  broadcast channels. Sign of the times re: physical media or just me consciously steering away from those noir boxsets to shake things up?

Three Pines, TV series (Season One, 8 Episodes, 2022), Episodes 7-8 – Amazon Prime

13. D.O.A. (1948)

14. Kansas City Confidential (1952) – Amazon Prime

Unforgiven (1992)

15. Wings of Desire (1987)

16. Jung_E (2023) – Netflix

17. Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat (2022) – Netflix

Jack Ryan (Season Two, 8 Episodes, 2019), Episodes 1 – 8, Amazon Prime

Attentive readers may note that I finished season two of Jack Ryan following yesterday’s post reviewing episodes 1 – 4. Yeah, I watched the final four episodes yesterday, staying up late last night for the final two. You know a show is good when you suggest staying up for one more episode and then even later for another. Binge-watching… reminds me of one Easter many years ago when I’d bought the DVD boxset (well, I did say many years ago) of season one of 24 and we wound up binge-watching the entire box of twenty-four episodes over the single weekend. In my defence, I will point out it wasn’t a rewatch, I’d not watched any of the show during its network airing so was merely catching-up on a well-regarded show that I’d missed. But anyway, that was my first experience of binge-watching, something that has largely come into its own with the rise of Netflix and other streamers which happily ‘dump’ entire seasons of new shows all at once. I still prefer the old-fashioned method of weekly drops, such as what Amazon did with Rings of Power a few months back, and The Expanse before it- I like the anticipation of looking forward to the next week’s instalment, and discussing it with colleagues at work or online. A social side to what is essentially a very solitary experience, of sitting down and watching something on a television.

So anyway, season two of Jack Ryan is very good, better than the first season I think and regards that second season in particular, the final four episodes were better than those first four- I really enjoyed how the script-writers brought all the various character arcs to their conclusion, and brought the seperate plot threads together in a very satisfying way. It may not have been ground-breaking or particularly extraordinary, but it was very well done and I always like a well-structured narrative with good character arcs. Its a very solid show and I look forward to watching season three.

A word regards my methodology with these weekly summaries- I’ve resumed counting ‘new’ films (those films I haven’t seen before, many of which are hardly new to most people) which is why some films have a numerical count against them and others don’t, and I’m also not counting TV shows. I didn’t keep any count at all last year and while I’ve not got a target at all regards an annual total, I’d just like to keep track for curiosities sake.

So now to my weekly summary of best and worst of the ‘new’ stuff. Well, best of the week is Wings of Desire, which I finally got to watch after all these years. To be frank, it didn’t blow me away, and its ‘best of the week’ status is more a reflection of the others, I guess. Wings of Desire is a film I likely need to watch again; its more of a tone-poem than a regular film, and while I’ve nothing against that (hey, I really like Terrence Mallick films after all) it did, I suspect, mean that its probably a grower. I also recorded it off a television airing on a commercial channel which meant I had to fast-forward through commercial breaks and that’s never the best way to watch a film, especially one like this one which establishes a mood and dreamlike space only for it to be broken every fifteen-twenty minutes. Back in the day, this was the way we tended to watch so many films but its really not ideal.

Worst of the month was Jung_E, a major disappointment considering that director Sang-ho Yeon previously made the excellent Train to Busan. I’ll get to posting a review shortly, so I’ll not go into it a great deal here, but my goodness it was stupid. Is there anything worse than stupid sci-fi? This was like one of those silly 1960s sci-fi b-movies I used to cringe at growing up, albeit with a bigger budget. I thought the genre had grown up out of that nonsense but apparently not.

So anyway, regards next week, I really have no idea. Maybe I’ll crack on with Jack Ryan season three (or maybe I’ll take a break); one film on my radar is Sergio Sollima’s 1973 Italian crime drama Revolver, starring Oliver Reed, which may seem a little obscure but I believe is well-regarded (I recall a Blu-ray release from Eureka last year) and which I’ve noticed is on Amazon Prime. Other than that, who knows? Other than reviews, I feel a rant about cinema prices coming on –  I haven’t been to a cinema since I saw Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, and while I wasn’t actually intending to go, I perused the prices for Avatar: The Way of the Water out of idle curiosity and I have to say, there’s little wonder it broke the $2 billion mark this week if folks are paying the same prices I saw. Also, I came across an absolutely fascinating article about AI being used for lip-synching that both excited and scared me, I’ll hopefully get chance to post about that.

“The problem with gold is the effect it has on people. It drives them crazy.” – King of Thieves (2018)

kingthievesKing of Thieves, Dir. James Marsh, 2018, 108 mins, Amazon Prime

Don’t know why I’m even bothering to write about this one, there’s certainly better films that I’ve seen that are still waiting for a write-up, but I’d had this film on my radar ever since it was first announced in online trailers. I mean, who could resist a cast like this -Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winston, Michael Gambon- in a crime story based on real-life events one can actually recall from recent memory? A film that looks sharp and witty and very British, according to those clever marketing peeps. On paper, it should be a cracker.

Well, I finally got around to this having spotted it on Amazon Prime, but alas, it isn’t anything near as good as it ought to be. ‘Less than the sum of its parts’ would seem a very fitting summary of this clumsy effort. Regards that splendid cast – they are fine but they never feel stretched, they are clearly just coasting along, which itself seems pretty criminal, pardon the pun. Maybe Caine could get away with that kind of performance in his 1960’s pomp but he can hardly manage it now, for all his on-screen charisma. I think the most curious thing about King of Thieves, is that, for all that its supposed to be a retelling of true events, it seldom ever felt real or particularly convincing, and all the characters just feel like goofy caricatures; I suspect because it was trying to approximate the irreverent feel of The Italian Job rather than, say, something like the Sweeney television series.

Which is the root problem with this film; its a matter of tone. For a true crime story of bad guys being bad -even if they are surprisingly OLD bad guys- its played for laughs far too much for comfort. I was never entirely sure, for instance, whether I should have liked them for being endearing old codgers waxing lyrical about the good old days when they were young bastards, and hope they succeed, or hate the horrid old bastards and hope they got caught. Which is where the film gets it wrong- are these harmless old buggers having one last hurrah robbing from rich folks who somehow deserve it, or nasty old rogues who deserve to be locked away? It just seemed stuck in the middle somewhere, like it wanted it both ways, while maintaining the ill-judged tone of some light-hearted comedy. Maybe the problem with gold is that it makes film-makers crazy.

“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.” – Unforgiven (1992)

unforgivUnforgiven, Dir. Clint Eastwood, 1992, 130 mins

Yesterday, I watched Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven again; probably for the first time in several years. Watching it, I wondered how I had left it so long. Some films, they are so good you could rewatch them every year; and yet we don’t. Maybe that’s a healthy thing, there is a danger of boredom in repetition. I have a friend who rewatches the films in his DVD collection far too often for it to be considered healthy, to the point at which I wonder if he’s ever really watching them – I mean, WATCHING them- or if instead the images just fleet past his eyes absently and he’s just tuned out without even realising it.

What a wonderful film Unforgiven is, though- what a pleasure to watch Clint Eastwood, such a cinematic icon, and arguably here still in his prime (he was 62 when this was released), and of course Gene Hackman, too, an actor who is so missed in films today- although it could well be argued that today’s films aren’t worthy of him, so who could blame him for retiring. Not forgetting, of course, Morgan Freeman, here another example of him, as he always seems to, making everything seem so effortless. My goodness, such a cast this film has (and I had not yet mentioned Richard Harris); isn’t it something magical, a great film with such a great cast? Its like planets reaching some celestial alignment.

I must confess, though, to being quietly appalled at the realisation that this film is now over thirty years old. I recall very clearly seeing it in its cinema release – it was in the then-new Showcase multiplex cinema, itself now gone. Hard to believe. Thirty years.

Measuring the passage of time by the anniversaries of films is worse than judging it by peoples birthdays, I reckon. Were we still renting/buying films on VHS back then? Measuring it by home video formats is even more concerning, just makes it seem even longer ago.

“I don’t think you fully understand, Bigelow. You’ve been murdered.” – D.O.A. (1949)

doaD.O.A., Dir. Rudolph Mate, 1949, 83 mins, Talking Pictures TV 

Darn it, I was so chuffed at stumbling upon a rare showing of noir classic D.O.A. in the schedules, a film I’ve been trying to see for a few years now.

The word’s ‘frantic’, ‘dizzying’ and ‘disorientating’ spring immediately to mind regards Rudolph Mate’s 1949 noir thriller D.O.A. Once this film begins it doesn’t let up the mad pace at all; in this respect it feels surprisingly modern, but I actually thought it detracted from what it could have been. A scene in a jazz club (musical numbers a frequent trope of films of the period) features a band careering through a number so fast its a wonder none of the payers keel over (or any of the club patrons, for that matter) and pretty much summarises the film as a whole. It’s a maelstrom of kinetic energy.

Which is the whole point, I suppose- the films premise, after all, regards a dying man’s last hours, racing to identify who poisoned him and why- Edmond O’Brien’s Frank Bigelow is literally a dead man walking. Its a killer premise and one that has gained this film a classic status, but in reality the film doesn’t entirely work and there’s a few issues that for me question if it really deserves that ‘classic’ moniker.

For one, the relationship between Bigelow and his secretary, Paula (Pamela Britton) never convinces. Its something common to some of the films of this period, particularly noir, as if a romance is a mandatory element forced into the script, awkwardly tagged into a story that didn’t have one nor need it. Indeed, it leaves protagonist Bigelow looking like a complete heel, running off to San Francisco for an impromptu break to fool around with whatever dame he can pick up. Maybe we’re supposed to just put it down to male jitters at the prospect of settling down with Paula but it doesn’t show him in a particularly good light, indeed only making it worse when Paula tells him  “…there’s nothing you can do that you ever have to feel guilty about” as if condoning his actions when he departs for his planned debauchery.  It badly ages the film, but worse is what happens once he arrives in San Francisco, with the most astonishing editorial decision I have seen (or rather heard) for a long time- the wolf-whistles that litter the soundtrack whenever Bigelow lecherously eyes some dame that crosses his path are quite jarring, and wouldn’t even fit in a Carry-On movie, never mind a noir thriller… a mind-boggling addition to the film that almost ruins it completely. Some attempt at accentuating the humour, maybe, as if the studio thought the film too dark even for a noir? I actually thought I was watching a copy of the film that had been tinkered with by someone goofing around, it felt so out of place. Its horrible.

The mad pace of the film also left me questioning its own internal logic, indeed it quite confused me during the proceedings regards who did what to whom, and why. Its a mystery that doesn’t really feel substantial enough; a little like how nobody making John  Huston’s The Maltese Falcon really understood that films plot, never mind the viewers of it over the decades since. As regards D.O.A., it was apparently something to do with Bigelow notarizing a bill of sale for a shipment of stolen iridium that could put the crooks who shipped it behind bars, but more so that Bigelow’s death would also cover-up a murder that had been staged to look like a suicide, but it was all played and explained so frantically I must confess I didn’t entirely ‘get’ it – instead it very much felt like watching one of those modern films that disguise plot-holes by editing things so tightly that viewers don’t have the time to take stock and question what’s actually going on. When Bigelow is being shot at or pursued by a trio of thugs, I actually questioned who the hell these guys were, it was like they’d been dumped into it from some other movie. 

Which all makes it sound that I didn’t enjoy D.O.A. at all, which isn’t entirely true, but I was left not at all convinced that the film fully deserves its reputation as a noir classic. To me it was a film that could and should have been a great film let down by its inept execution. Was the crazy pace its undoing, or those wolf-whistles that kept on taking me out of the film, or that unconvincing romantic sub-plot (not at all helped by the film jarring to a sudden halt when Paula arrives in LA and she and Bigelow have a melodramatic parting that could raise sniggers as easily as the sympathy its actually trying for)? There’s too many things wrong about the film weighing down upon what it gets right. Or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. 

All I know is, had this been remade in the early ‘fifties with a more skilled director, and maybe John Alton handling its photography, accentuating better the noir -or even horror- aspects of the doomed hero, and maybe a script that dropped the romantic handle or linked the romance to a femme fatale that was involved with the crime (at least then justifying that romance), then I think it would likely have resulted in a much better film. Which is of course that old chestnut of me criticising a film for being what it isn’t, more than what it is. Maybe my coolness to the film on this viewing will thaw upon subsequent watches when I’m more accustomed to its plot and its weird wolf-whistles/ apparent misogyny (for once, here’s a film that possibly deserves a disclaimer before its titles regards representing dated attitudes, something that rarely bothers me but did here). Time will tell.

At least I have more time than Bigelow…

The Weekly Summary #3

company1So here we go with the third week of 2023, and its pretty slim, really-

10. King of Thieves (2018) – Amazon Prime

11. Jack Ryan  (Season One, 2018)  Episodes 6 to 8 – Amazon Prime

12. Larceny (1948) – Blu-ray

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Well, clearly it was one of THOSE weeks when too much got in the way.

I wrote about Larceny (clearly film of the week, but really not much competition) in yesterday’s post. I’d just like to make a few notes regards Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, which I watched on Friday night for the first time in, oh, maybe thirty years- I think the last time I watched it was on a VHS rental. Such a pleasure to see the late David Warner again, I always enjoyed seeing him in films, a great character actor who frequently appeared in genre films and television- I’d actually forgotten he was in this. Isn’t it odd when you watch an old film again for the first time in years and a face turns up?

When I wrote about Larceny, I remarked about just how great Joan Caulfield was in that, and how I was surprised upon seeing that she had very minor success in film, working mostly in television afterwards. I could have very easily noted the same regards Dorothy Hart who played Madeline, the secretary that Rick flirts with, recruits to his con and then dismisses to New York to wait for him in vain. Hart possibly makes even more of an impression than Caulfield, in a much smaller role; she has this elegant, sultry, woman-of-the-world manner that suggests she knows she’s being taken but goes along with it anyway. Her performance suggests she could have gone on to bigger roles but she had even less success than Caulfield, departing Hollywood just a few years after appearing in Larceny and pretty much retiring from the acting game completely.

I note this because there is a very similar situation as regards the actress who stars in The Company of Wolves. Now, the first time I watched this film, many full moons ago, my attention was clearly on the atmosphere, the horror elements and the werewolf effects. This time around I was utterly captivated by the quite remarkable performance of Sarah Patterson who plays the film’s heroine (and Red Riding Hood), Rosaleen. It is a very nuanced, sophisticated performance considering her young age (she was only twelve when cast), having a genuine presence onscreen, especially impressive considering she’s in scenes with the like of David warner and Angela Lansbury (Lansbury soon after to become world-famous in that Murder, She Wrote nonsense). I was genuinely shocked to see that Patterson only made one more film – one of those dodgy Cannon vehicles from that ‘eighties era, Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs in 1987- and left acting entirely, only later appearing in minor roles in two films; Do I Love You? in 2002 and Tick Tock Lullaby in 2007, films I’d never heard of and likely will never have opportunity to see.

So it just seemed curious that this week was a week of noticing actresses in impressive performances which promised great careers which largely never happened. Of course there’s likely nothing really remarkable about this, other than I observed it watching two films in succession, chasing up actress bios on imdb to connect the dots to other roles/films to keep an eye out for, and being shocked to discover the lists were scant indeed. In Patterson’s case, it would seem evident that she always had her eye on some other preferred career, and concentrated on her studies, but it does seem to have been the film-world’s loss. One of those what-if’s I guess (for instance, I did idly wonder what she might have brought to Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen a few years later).

“Stop twisting my arm! People will think we’re married!” – Larceny (1948)

Larceny1948Larceny, Dir. George Sherman, 1948, 79 mins

Not all films are going to punch you between the eyes and leave you dazed at their audacity and brilliance. Some films -most films, really- are more like a slow burn that sneak up on you. If all films were like The Matrix or Jaws or Citizen Kane or The Godfather… well, those are just a few that immediately spring to mind, but if all films were like that, watching films would prove to be exhausting, and I suspect less interesting. What makes the special films what they are is simply that they are special. Which is not to say that all other films are necessarily lesser, but while some films are instantly remembered, revered, countless others which are perfectly fine are released, entertain and then largely consigned to history, forgotten and subsequently rarely encountered. I am constantly bewildered by all those films I have never even heard of which somehow by chance come to my attention and surprise me. They may not be as special as the genuine greats, but they certainly have their worth and don’t deserve to be lost/forgotten.

uninoirI think Larceny, part of Indicator’s Universal Noir #1 boxset, is one of those films; its a fairly minor film, really, largely most interesting because of its cast, regards which there are actually two points I’d like to make here. The first, is regards the better films some of that cast would move on to; that game of connect-the-dots which film-lovers can play, how one film leads to another like some kind of treasure hunt. The other point is regards those members of the cast who really impress here but who strangely don’t seem to have gone on to any great success or necessarily better movies. In this case, its the arrestingly beautiful ladies; Joan Caulfield in particular, who is breath-takingly pretty and gives a performance that deserves a much better movie, and who didn’t go on to those better movies and seemingly had a career that largely languished in 1950s television (probably popular shows at the time but utterly forgotten now). There’s shades of Grace Kelly to her, I think, and I’m very surprised she didn’t find more success in films: admittedly, that’s something I have noted before regards other actresses. Were pretty faces a dime a dozen in Hollywood? Was talent immaterial, or shelf-life (pardon the term) limited with so many younger, fresher faces always waiting in the audition rooms?

So anyway, Larceny is a film which largely just works on its own terms, a story of the dark underbelly of the American Dream which doesn’t draw attention to itself through any visual flourishes typical of noir -instead it just tells its story in a quietly efficient manner. Admittedly the film is possibly more melodrama, more predictable soap opera than the criminal procedural that one might expect, and to be fair, the plot doesn’t really surprise. One won’t be shocked by any noir twists here as one can confidently predict where its going, to the extent that its almost a calmly reassuring watch. There’s no rugs being pulled under the viewer’s legs here.

Dan Duryea (Too Late For Tears, Criss Cross, Scarlet Street, Ministry of Fear), was an actor who was something of a noir staple, here he is in typically fine, no-good form as a con man leading a team of decidedly no-good grifters in post-War America. One can’t underestimate the ill-repute of these swindlers, who don’t care who they cheat or walk over; in this case, intending to swindle the widow of a war hero, which must have seemed especially disgraceful so soon after the war. Were war heroes, even the dead ones, no longer sacred? The elaborate con involves Rick Maxon (John Payne) travelling to Mission City to seduce war widow Deborah Owens Clark (Caulfield) after posing as one of her late husband’s war buddies. He’s to give her the idea of creating a war memorial in the town, then swindle her of the funds she raises from all the wealthy socialite’s of the town.

Duryea’s Silky Randall -what a name for a slime-ball-  orchestrates his team with ruthless efficiency, but is undone by his jealousy regards his beautiful blonde girlfriend, Tory, a no-good temptress who is bored with Silky and instead desires and is obsessed with (like every other dame, it seems) Rick. Its a typical noir romantic triangle, and destined for a typically noir end.

larceny1948bRick is consummately played by handsome hunk John Payne; all the women love him or desire him, and that’s his problem (a problem I’ve never personally had the pleasure of, but hey, that’s the Hollywood dream that keeps pulling me back, living vicariously through others). Oh, but its such a problem and nuisance – wistfully starring at the stars as if wishing he was far away from all of them, Rick just keeps batting them off or filing them away for later use when they may be of some purpose to him. He teases a waitress at a diner, then a secretary at the real estate agents. He doesn’t even have to try, every girl swoons after him; its a crux of the film because it makes it seem all the more reasonable when, say, he needs to push Deborah into a rash decision Rick gets that secretary to become a party to his crime. Rick promises the secretary that he’ll be with her later, sending her packing to New York where she’ll be waiting in vain for him until she realises she’s been had.

It does make him interesting though- Rick is the nominal lead of the film but he’s certainly no hero; indeed its what possibly elevates Larceny as a film, because he’s quite the broken man. He’s bad, he’s ruthless, but it becomes apparent that he is filled with self-loathing. Its tricky though to pin down why; it isn’t because of guilt. The one thing that surprises regards Larceny is that of all the things that are predictable, what does confound is that the inevitable budding romance between Rick and his mark, the widow Deborah, doesn’t blossom as we expect- while naturally Deborah like all women falls for Rick, Rick doesn’t fall head over heels for her in turn or gain a moral compass for her sake.

Silky’s frustrated girl, the blonde temptress Tory is played by a very young Shelly Winters who, forgive me, rather shocked me in this film  regards how well she played a sexy femme fatale, considering my perception of her was influenced by her later more sedentary years in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) or John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979) biopic in which she played the singer’s matronly mother. Shelley was, er, surprisingly hot and sexy, back in the day? Bah. I should have known better; she was young and pretty in Odds Against Tomorrow, after all, but in Robert Wise’s film she was plainly a good girl, while in Larceny she’s absolutely a bad girl and nothing but trouble. Its’s astonishing really how Shelley chews up the scenery, she’s great, careering through the film like a hand grenade ready to go off at any moment.

Inevitably of course (this being a noir after all) the hand grenade that is Tory does indeed go off, after gradually becoming an ever greater foil to the con. Silky grows increasingly sure that Troy is cheating on him with Rick, Troy grows increasingly sure that Rick is falling for Deborah, Deborah grows increasingly sure she’s found a man in Rick that measures up to her dead husband, but everyone is wrong.  So even though the con works it suddenly becomes derailed at the end by the jealousy and suspicion, bringing Rick the self-destruction he possibly desired all along. Larceny would probably be a better film with a more shady, definitively noir ending, but this was 1948 and bad guys can’t really win. Still, its one of those noir endings in which nobody is happy or content at all.

“It costs too much to get married, a lump sum down and your wages a week for life.” – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Saturday1Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Dir. Karel Reisz, 1960, 89 mins

This film was wonderful, really quite extraordinary. Perfectly cast with some utterly incendiary, career-best performances, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is surely one of the greatest British films ever made, and, as time rolls inevitably on (its over sixty years old now), it likely remains one of the most important, if only as a social document of its time. Surely it should be a strong candidate for the BFI’s series of 4K UHD releases (its certainly up there with Get Carter as important pieces of British cinema). This is one of those films which, decades later becomes renowned for how it captures a time, a place, a way of life, a culture, a country, even, that in many ways, for both good and ill, is since lost.

When Saturday Night and Sunday Morning originally came out, it was understandably considered a scandalous piece, as the film pushed the boundaries of what could be portrayed on film (extra-marital affair, abortion). The passing of time has dulled all that- the film remains dramatic and riveting,  but its more ‘daring’ aspect is just the usual TV soap plotline these days. I suppose that’s some kind of progress.

satSet in the late 1950s, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning takes place in a Nottinghamshire factory town, telling the story of Arthur (Albert Finney) an angry young man who feels trapped in his job at the Raleigh bike factory and the town he lives in, seeing his past and future reflected back at him in the kids crowding the tenement streets and the old men, beaten by work and life, in the pubs. Its a familiar tale of youthful rage at the world and the need to escape, but there’s no escape here, just a frustration funnelled through drinking, womanising and general mischief. Arthur’s not smart, he’s not talented; he can see the future lying before him and is plainly horrified at eventually becoming his Dad. Arthur’s ruggedly handsome and something of a charmer, struggling through hard weeks of monotonous work looking forward to the respite of weekends when he can go to the pub for a drink and see his married girlfriend Brenda. Brenda is played by Rachel Roberts in one of the finest, understated performances I have ever seen, and deservedly won a BAFTA for Best British Actress for the role. Such nuances in her acting, I think she quietly almost steals every scene.

Brenda is the wife of one of Arthur’s co-workers, hence the film being controversial for its frank depiction of extra-marital sex and, when Brenda announces she is pregnant by Arthur, its discussion of abortion which was illegal at the time. During the film Arthur also becomes involved with a young woman, Doreen (Shirly Anne Field) and starts to court her, eventually leaving Brenda behind. The film is a wonderful character piece, and while Arthur is the nominal ‘main’ character, I think Brenda’s story is just as important and captivating. She’s trapped in what is a boring and passionless marriage and is looking for some escape just as much as Arthur is, but eventually comes to the realisation that she has to stay with her dependable husband. I’m reminded, curiously, of Dick Powell’s fate at the end of the noir thriller Pitfall, or Kim Novak at the end of Strangers When We Meet; reality usurping the excitement of some extra-marital affair.  Is the lesson of these films that conformity is paramount, that the social order must be maintained, and possibly also that the viewer should ignore temptation else suffer similar costs as the characters do?

In any case, I adored Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, I thought it was bleakly charming, if that makes sense, and while Albert Finney is of course amazing and dominates the film, one can certainly fall a little in love with Brenda and wish she had a better outcome than simply trying to find some happiness with her boring husband. I’ve since read of the sad end of Rachel Roberts herself- she died of a suicide in 1980, at the age of just 53. That was just twenty years after this amazing film and her own BAFTA success. One would have thought on the merits of this film alone that she would have had the world of stage and screen at her feet, but then again, life isn’t a movie, and as the end of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning would have it with its own sadness, real-life seldom has the Hollywood ending we’d like to think it should.

The Weekly Summary #2

satAnother week already? Well, here’s the list for week # 2 of 2023:

6. Jurassic World Dominion (2022) – 4K UHD

7. The Pale Blue Eye (2023) – Netflix

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – 4K UHD

8. Saturday Night & Sunday Morning (1960)

Jack Ryan (Season One, 2018)  Episodes 1 to 5 – Amazon Prime

9. Crimes of the Future (2022)

Life keeps on throwing curveballs. Last year I desperately wanted to see out 2022; Christmas seemed just incidental to getting to New Year and kissing it all good riddance. There’s an old tradition for New Year that my My Dad followed, I don’t know if its something unique to England or the Midlands or something everyone used to do in the old days – certainly for the past twenty+ years I’ve always been the only one ever doing it in my street. Seeing out the old and in with the new, you walk out the back door of your house shortly before midnight, wait outside for the turn of midnight, then enter the house through the front door; out with the old year, in with the new. What? I’m the only one doing it? I knew it. I’m some kind of idiot. But bless him, my Dad used to do it when I was a kid so I used to tag along with him, and I’ll carry on doing it.

These days the only New Year tradition folks seem to follow other than possibly getting drunk is letting off lots of noisy fireworks that terrify my dog. Its something that has become the norm since the Millennium New Year when everyone seemed to go batshit crazy about a number. Every year now as the minutes approach midnight I’m standing out front of my house, with the field across from it I have a wonderful view like some great vast panorama, and the sky goes berserk with fireworks, money being burned for the sake of pretty colours and loud bangs. No, I’m not a fan of fireworks, I expect few dog owners are.

So anyway, back to the subject at hand- anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog will understand why it was one of the very worst years of my life and I just wanted to be rid of it, draw a line under it and hope for a fresh start in 2023. Unfortunately life is rarely as neat as that, and the game of endurance just seems to have rolled over into 2023. I’ve started the year with a death in the family so another funeral ahead (after the three funerals in 2022 I’d have hoped for a longer respite from them but hey, it increasingly seems life has other ideas when you’re getting older).

Is anyone else trying to ignore the news these days? It seems the media just love to milk a crisis and dwell on the worst. I suspect they found that Covid had the benefit of stupendous ratings for news outlets – there’s profit in misery, so they continue to pile it on. Is it the same everywhere or is it just the UK? There seems a great deal of attention is paid to mental health these days but no-one seems to take the news outlasts to task. Lets have some hope, people. Its getting so that watching the darkest of film noir is actually an escape to some old world utopia.

Which allows me an awkward link to an early twist- looking at the list above, you’ll note that there’s been no noir this week, and that unfortunately I’m already falling even further behind on posting reviews ((there’s a few from week #1 that I need to catch up on, never mind those listed above). I wish I could simply suggest that I must try harder and clear some of the backlog, but as ever of late that’s a battle with real-world issues beyond my control, so the pressure is on to at the very least keep up with these weekly summaries (we’ll see how that goes, but at least I’ve managed to week two so its now a bone-fide series rather than a forlorn one-off).

The best film of the week -and I intend to keep track of these ‘best of the week’ titles and maybe use them at the end of the year if I get that far- is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a simply remarkable film from 1960 which somehow I had never seen before. I have a review of it about ready to be posted so I won’t dwell upon it here, you’ll be able to read what I thought when I get the post up later today or early tomorrow, but if that isn’t one of the best British films ever made I’m a Wookie’s uncle. I was never really a fan of Albert Finney, I got used to seeing him when a mature actor in films and television during his later years, but goodness, seeing him so young and handsome, his innate fiery energy funnelled into his portrayal of an angry young man (absolutely perfect casting) was quite a revelation.

Worst film of the week is David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future– a real gut punch that one as I’d hoped for the best. I think it is clear that Cronenberg’s best years (Videodrome, The Dead Zone and The Fly remake, for me) are well behind him. I’m sure it must have its fans, but I simply didn’t ‘get’ Crimes of the Future, even though I tried my damnedest: I don’t think it matters what great ideas are involved in a film, bad storytelling is bad storytelling, and I’m not even certain Crimes of the Future even had a plot. Perhaps the art-house crowd don’t care so much about that. Such a shame considering it had a good cast and a premise one would expect to be perfect for Cronenberg. I guess it could be argued that the film was a welcome respite from the empty-headed blockbusters but for me it was just too far in the opposite direction; an empty-headed arthouse flick with dodgy performances. Body-horror for its own sake? I guess I missed the point.

So anyway, that’s week two. Now this is the part where I go to a ‘coming attractions’ teaser to get all you gentle readers excited for the week ahead but its really a blank slate at the moment: no disc releases are due  or anything planned like those 4K Godfather films from Christmas. Well, who dares makes plans these days? The week seems already busy with all that real-world stuff (Claire’s mom is having a carpet fitted so we need to go over and move some more furniture beforehand, there’s the usual shopping chores and possibly another instalment in the saga of taking my Aunt to her Opticians… really, it makes me wonder how I fit my job in never mind this blogging nonsense).  I’ll probably go back to a noir or two for some kind of escape, and there’s still a few ‘new’ films on Netflix and Amazon I need to catch up on, so we’ll wait and see, hey?