Taking a 747 for a swim in the Bermuda Triangle?

airport77Airport 77, 1977, 114 mins, Digital

Well, I only watched this because its a Jack Lemmon film I’d never seen before. No doubt if I had a tick sheet of all his films, I could never hope to complete it, but anyway, here’s one more off the list. Turns out its one of the oddest films of his I’ve ever seen, albeit paradoxically very Hollywood, oh so typical of that mainstream Hollywood that Lemmon worked in and was a part of. Airport 77 is from that cycle of  disaster movies so popular in the 1970s that seemed to pull in surprising talent – either an irresistible easy pay-check, or maybe the acting fraternity of the time felt they simply HAD to be in one of these disaster flicks to be considered part of the then-zeitgeist. I can imagine Hollywood parties at the time and thespians exchanging notes, and sneering at those who HADN’T appeared in one yet. Nearest thing we have these days to something like it would be Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, films that don’t really seem to deserve their star-studded cast’s (and surely the most anticipated thing regards the third of those films is when the cast gets revealed).

But considering what a silly little film this is (hijackers trying to steal a fortune of art treasures from a 747 fly it into the Bermuda Triangle, where it collides with an oil rig, crashes into the sea and lies submerged on the sea-bed), what a cast Airport 1977 has! Its got Jack Lemmon, one of my favourite all-time actors in one of his weirdest, most physical roles; he plays Captain Don Gallagher, pilot of a 747 with a talent for scuba-diving who manages to save everyone. Its got Dracula (Christopher Lee), its got Kolchak (Darren McGavin), its got Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), its got the Seven Million Dollar Man (Monte Markham, that’s the bad bionic man for those who weren’t around back in 1975), its got Apollo 13‘s Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan), its got Inspector Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) –  seriously, its got a cast which itself alone makes the film worthy of a watch.  I haven’t included those cast-members who include such films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and  Gone With the Wind in their filmography! Its quite extraordinary stuff for a film so inherently daft but which, as I have noted, also makes it just so damned watchable. Production values are pretty good, too, and while some of the visual effects betray the pre-Star Wars quality level that was acceptable at the time (but would get laughed at afterwards and not age well post-ILM/Apogee etc), some of the effects shots are surprisingly fine (as its a Universal picture, it included Albert Whitlock as part of the effects crew).

While The Towering Inferno remains, surely, the best of all those disaster flicks, Airport 1977 is one of the better examples, no doubt, albeit its not really in the ‘so bad its good’ category. I suppose there is something rather endearing about the genre and its  possibly my loss that I’ve never watched Airport, Airport 1975 nor The Concorde-Airport ’79 either (having watched Airplane! I figured they were redundant). Seems there’s a Blu-ray box to fix that.  Something for my film bucket-list maybe, someday.

A peculiar tonic: The Out of Towners

outotThe Out of Towners, 1970, 101 mins, DVD

With everything that has been going on recently, my clear-out/review of books/discs etc has been put on hold, the garage still full of boxes. Occasionally I make an effort when I can focus on something but don’t have much heart in it.  Curiously though, yesterday glancing through one of the boxes of DVDs I noticed Arthur Hiller’s 1970 comedy The Out of Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I’d forgotten that I even owned it, recently tempted by an Australian Blu-ray release from Imprint… I hate forgetting that I had the film on disc, even an old DVD; I never used to forget that kind of stuff. Either my memory is going, or I just have too many discs: cue Orson Welles impression: what curio lurks in the remotest corners of all those boxes?

Yesterday I had to register my dad’s death, having finally been notified that the hospital had emailed the certificate of death to the district registry office. As I’m his eldest son it seemed right that it fell to me, and as my mom wasn’t up to it, one of my brothers went along with me. Seeing my name printed on my dad’s final death certificate as ‘informant’ looks…. horrible, frankly, as is the finality of my dad’s life (birth date, date of death etc) just summarised like that, like a book being closed, too soon.

So not the best of days; and last night caught mid-evening with a few hours clear after walking Eddie, I recalled noticing the Out of Towners DVD and suggested putting it on. Films are inevitably subject to mood and I’ve been caught a few times over the past few weeks at a loss for what to watch; what’s safe, what isn’t (clearly Field of Dreams is out of bounds for some time yet). I figured a Neil Simon comedy from 1970 starring one of my favourite actors would be harmless enough.

So the damnedest thing happened. When the film ended I suddenly realised that, for the space of a ninety minutes or so, I’d forgotten my woes, drifting off into a safer world. Movies can be an escape, and The Out of Towners proved a surprising tonic.

Its not, in all honesty, a particularly good movie. I know it was popular when it came out, but its never been a particular favourite of Jack Lemmon’s films for me. I much prefer the far superior The Prisoner of Second Avenue, another Neil Simon comedy with, oddly enough, similar locations (both set in New York) and themes.  I think The Out of Towners gets derailed by the increasingly farcical calamities it inflicts upon the husband and wife Lemmon/Dennis characters. Simon’s comedy works best in its sparkling dialogue, and subtly-observed character beats and observations, and The Out of Towners has less opportunity for this as it progresses and gets ever more manic.  Its not a bad film, but comparisons with The Prisoner of Second Avenue does it no favours at all. I simply adore Prisoner, its one of my very favourite films.

But The Out of Towners is safe; its harmless, silly fun and it certainly worked wonders for me: I guess its true, even an average/poor film can be the right film at the right time, its like some strange sorcery at work. I suppose if we could figure that out and we watched the right films at the right time, we’d all be happier even at the worst of times.

Valentine’s Day Special: How to Murder Your Wife

how2aHow to Murder Your Wife, 1965, 118 mins, Blu-ray

This year it was my turn to choose a Valentine’s-day movie to watch. Whenever its Claire’s turn, she’ll invariably pick Silver Linings Playbook for another watch, or one of the versions of Romeo & Juliet. But this year, as I note, it was my turn, so I chose Richard Quine’s wonderful black comedy How to Murder Your Wife, or Como Matar a La Propia Esposa per my Blu-ray copy imported from Italy would have it (this is another of those films starring Jack Lemmon that inexplicably remains unreleased on HD here in the UK).

I adore How to Murder Your Wife. Its a quirky black comedy starring one of my favourite actors (with the added bonus of the great Terry Thomas, too) that is funny and romantic and yes, hardly the kind of thing that could be made today. Its wrong for all sorts of reasons that for me make it so absolutely right: it is so of its time, those glorious swinging sixties that I was born a little too late to enjoy but which seems to wonderful in these Hollywood movies. The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple through to Avanti! and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, all films starring Jack Lemmon that seem to be glimpses of another, simpler world. I don’t know if that world ever really existed, or it was just something wholly built of Hollywood artifice, but its a world I love to escape into through these movies.

Its something in the cinematography, the sublime art direction, in the colours, the fashions, the generally middle-aged casts, the glorious music scores. Regards the latter, How to Murder Your Wife is graced with a wonderful lush Neal Hefti score, as was The Odd Couple. Claire remarked upon the music this time around, regards how much some of it reminded her of Avanti!‘s score, even though, as I observed, that was by another composer altogether (Carlo Rustichelli) – its just a style, a mood. A jazzy, upbeat band feel, wonderfully romantic in places with sweeping strings. Over the years I have collected theses scores on CD- The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce, Avanti!, The Odd Couple, How to Murder Your Wife… I adore the music as much as I do the films, and only the score for The Prisoner of Second Avenue escapes me, but maybe someday.

Would this film be charged with misogyny today? Could you even show this film on television today without a backlash of wailing from women’s rights groups? Would they all be missing the point? IS the film’s poster taglines “Women: warning! See it before HE does- the wife you save might be YOU!” or “Bring the little woman… maybe she’ll die laughing!” too close to the bone?

how2dI can imagine the ire of some people watching this film today. Its mostly white, privileged cast of affluent New Yorkers, many of them affirmed bachelors, with the hero of the film Stanley Ford (Lemmon) living in a lovely town house in Manhattan with his own butler/man servant. Stanley enjoying one-night flings with a bevy of beautiful women, his wealth (from his wildly popular syndicated newspaper strips featuring the adventures of super-spy Bash Brannigan, oh so sixties!) ensuring a carefree lifestyle regarded with some jealously by his henpecked married lawyer, Harold (the great Eddie Mayehoff).

It all comes crashing down for Stanley when he attends a freinds stag party – held like a funeral wake until the friend announces his fiancé has cancelled the wedding- and wakes up the next morning to find, to his horror, that he has drunkenly married a beautiful woman (Virna Lisi) who popped out of a cake during the ensuing party.  Stanley tries to extricate himself from the marriage to no avail- the woman doesn’t speak a word of English and as his lawyers wife Edna (Claire Trevor) sweeps the new Mrs Ford off to the shops for a complete new wardrobe, Stanley’s loyal man-servant Charles (Terry Thomas) leaves, refusing to work for a married couple on a matter of principle. Stanley’s once-idyllic lifestyle is in tatters, albeit lets be fair, anyone waking up to find himself married to the gorgeous Virna Lisi hasn’t got it all that bad. Its all part of the arch fun of the film, established from the start by Terry Thomas’ voiceover and first scenes in which he breaks the fourth wall and openly addresses (and reacts to) the camera and the audience behind it, something which bookends the film at its close when Charles gives in to the charms of Mrs Fords mother, newly arrived from Italy.

I absolutely love this film, its a joy to watch every time. There’s something so of its time about it. Maybe its dated, maybe its shamefully politically incorrect. But the cast is wonderful and Virna Lisi surely one of the most beautiful women in the world, and a gifted actress too with a talent for comedy. What’s really not to love? For me its the perfect Valentines Day movie, silly and funny and very romantic. Neal Hefti’s score has a love theme that can melt anyone’s heart and hey, love wins through in the end so ladies, surely you can forgive the film its fun at poking at the institution of marriage? Is that marriage thing even a thing anymore anyway?

Ah, sorry, yes dear, after twenty-six years of wonderful marriage I can assure everyone that, whatever this scandalous film possibly suggested back in 1965, marriage is still a fine institution and as valid as ever. I hope everyone had a very happy Valentine’s day- and that maybe next year, they give this film a spin.

If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.


Avanti! (yet again)

av1Yes I’ve watched Avanti!. Again. Isn’t it weird how one of Billy Wilder’s most easily-dismissed films has yet cast a bewitchment on me that keeps on pulling me back. Mind, I’m sure of all us who love movies have one or two curios which we return to or love quite irrationally. I don’t know why it is, but its… well, I rather think its an emotional thing, a connection we possibly can’t even explain. Maybe part of it is nostalgia, either for the time/experience when we first saw the film or for the period the film was made, what it represents, or the world it has frozen in time on celluloid. Certain films grab hold of us, and they never let us go.

The world of Avanti! no longer exists; perhaps it never did. Sometimes film can be strange that way, either fooling us into thinking its real or represents a heightened reality, like musicals do, or suggesting a better world, a picture of how we would like to be, or a world we would love to be in. Who wouldn’t like to stay in the Hotel Excelsior and be pampered by the fussy Carlo Carlucci, or meet Pamela Piggott and go for a swim in the early-morning ocean?

Who can resist revisiting it every year, watching the film again? Not me.

Der Glückspilz, or, The Fortune Cookie (1966)

fortuneYou never know, with how physical formats are these days, if foreign releases of some films are the only way of ever getting hold of them, which may themselves go OOP by waiting too long (it doesn’t seem possible to buy the Italian Blu-ray of How to Murder Your Wife, which I purchased a few years ago, any longer, for instance). No doubt a Eureka! UK release of both that and The Fortune Cookie will be announced soon now that I bought this German edition from Amazon Germany shortly before Christmas (doubts regards the Brexit deal at the time swung me into buying it, and it does seem importing stuff into the UK even with a deal is more difficult/slightly more expensive now). Regular readers of this blog will know of my passion for the films of Jack Lemmon- well, the best of them, anyway- and its been something of a mission of mine to buy copies on DVD and now Blu-ray when the chance arises, which is all too rare to be honest. Barring a few examples mostly dictated by the vagaries of region coding, I have most of the films starring Lemmon that are available on Blu-ray, but to be honest there’s few of them. Certainly far fewer than there should be.

The Fortune Cookie, from 1966, is a film I first caught on a lazy afternoon network airing some decades ago now. I really enjoyed it at the time, and have watched it several times since- in all honesty its a lesser Billy Wilder film that lacks the sharpness of The Apartment, and Jack Lemmon himself is hardly stretched at all, not having any opportunity to really shine as he should or bring any of his special qualities to it. I think both issues are, ironically, caused by Walter Matthau stealing the film- Wilder seems distracted  by him to such an extent he’s more interested in Matthau’s scheming, conniving lawyer and Lemmon just seems happy to sit back and let Matthau get on with it.  To be clear, Lemmon may get star billing, but its Matthau’s film and it only really seems to come alive when he’s on screen, which is a pity almost because it leaves those scenes featuring Lemmon and Ron Rich (as the unfortunate football player Luther ‘Boom Boom’ Jackson) feeling flat and uninteresting, as if Wilder’s attention is already on the next scene when Matthau’s going to be on set (Matthau actually went on to win a few awards for the film, notably an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). 

fortune 2That being said, even a lesser Wilder film is better than most director’s finest efforts, and the on-screen magic of Lemmon and Matthau together onscreen is a veritable feast. There’s just an unfortunate suspicion that this film could and should have been better; it just lacking a certain spark. Whether its, as I have noted, a lack of the sharpness of The Apartment or the wackiness of Some Like It Hot, I can’t say. Not all films are equal to the sum of their parts and I think The Fortune Cookie is one of them. Its not a total miss-fire and certainly has its moments but… could have been better. Lemmon and Matthau would next appear together in The Odd Couple (1968) a far better film (albeit not directed by Wilder), which is much sharper and wittier and focused on getting the best of both of them. 

There’s quite a few Lemmon films available on Blu-ray in Germany- why Germany and not here I cannot fathom, but naturally the Blu-ray is UK-friendly with English soundtrack and boasts an image, as one would expect, much more crisp and detailed than my previous DVD copy from several years back. Special features are limited to the film trailer (how ironic many much more well-featured releases lack trailers) and a stills gallery that is actually quite illuminating, featuring press materials and all sorts of odd international film poster designs.  A reversible sleeve naturally keeps the German title but loses that ugly green certificate rating.

One, Two, Three (1961)

oneOh dear. I suppose all directors have their ‘off days’, Hitchcock did (particularly in his later years), so has Spielberg, Ridley has had a few (although his have always looked pretty) so its understandable that the great Billy Wilder would too. Its just that, although I haven’t seen everything -or indeed even the majority- of his output, certainly nothing pre-1940, this is the first of his films which has had me responding with a “ugh, that was pretty terrible.” Indeed, with Wilder’s track record and all the great films of his that I have enjoyed, this film really came as something of a shock, how bad it was. No, I really didn’t care for this one at all. So it would seem that Wilder was only human after all.

I think part of the problem may be its age- a typically sharp-witted comedy, I’m sure, I think part of the problem with this film is that its cultural references, no doubt topical at the time, are inevitably lost and puzzling to viewers such as myself coming to it fresh with the perspective from 2020. Its been close to sixty years, after all. Its still disappointing though- I don’t think the comedy of Some Like It Hot, The Apartment or the Fortune Cookie, for instance, have dated pretty much at all since they first came out. But One, Two, Three just feels dated, anachronistic. Maybe its the madcap pace of the thing- its deliberately a rapid-fire comedy, Wilder and his regular script partner I A L Diamond consciously pushing the pace as far as they could- its relentless really, and ultimately quite tiring, exhausting. When the one-liners drop like lead it just makes the fast pace increasingly irritating. The heightened pace is equalled by the heightened caricatures of the characters, the exaggerated performances. Crucially however, considering its supposed to be a fast-paced comedy, it commits the sin of simply not being at all funny.

Really, I find it quite alarming that this film is how Wilder followed his magnificent The Apartment, one of my favourite films.

I don’t know why, but I find myself comparing this film to Spielberg’s 1941, it seems to suffer the same pitfalls, the exaggerated characters and general hectic pace of the storyline. Maybe you either buy into it or not, maybe its one of those ‘marmite’ films, and maybe One, Two, Three has its fervent fans in just the same way as 1941 seems to, but its telling I didn’t enjoy either of them.

Still, speaking as someone who will defend the oft-maligned Irma La Douce against its detractors, it was a big disappointment. I think its telling that Irma followed One, Two, Three because I can tell it shares some of its irreverent humour and style, you can see a connection between the two. So why does Irma work for me and One, Two, Three doesn’t? Is it as simple as the casting of Jack Lemmon? Maybe it is. I can’t say I was particularly enamoured by James Cagney in his leading role in One, Two, Three at all- indeed none of the cast really caught my eye, they all felt ‘off’ somehow. Everything in this film feels ‘off’, its like nothing works at all.

Judy Holliday and It Should Happen to You (1954)

it1Watching films, sometimes its full of surprises, and with this one I found a whole new discovery- the wonderful Judy Holliday, and with it another mystery, i.e. how in the world have I never, up to now, with all the films I have seen over the years, how have I never seen a film with Judy Holliday in it? Holliday is so wonderful in this; pretty, dizzy, goofy, funny, touching, just amazing- she blew me away. What a talent this woman was. 

I look her up on imdb and get a list of films to put on my watch-list, and then look at her bio and it breaks my heart- Judy Holliday, born June 21, 1921, died June 7th 1965, of breast cancer, just shy of her 44th birthday. Good God. She was just 43 years of age. Life is so unfair, and looking up actors and actresses from old movies like I do only keeps on reminding me of the fact. I should stop doing it, its getting too depressing.  

Likely her short life and limited screen career are partly why I’ve never seen her in any movie, or really even heard of her, but she won an Academy award for Best Actress for Born Yesterday in 1950 (yeah that’s top of the watch-list), so its not like she was an unknown or anything. The Oscar apparently left her typecast as the well-meaning dizzy blonde and after several more movies she left Hollywood to return to the stage and Broadway.

Well, I can only judge her by It Should Happen to You, but it seems to me there’s much more to her than the pretty but dizzy blonde, there’s much more going on there. She has fantastic screen presence, for one thing, this connection with the camera that only real movie stars seem to have. Some wonderful comic timing, too- its clear she was a genuine talent.  Consider me smitten.

So anyway, what originally brought me to It Should Happen to You (lousy title for the film, by the way) was Jack Lemmon, who was the name on the credits that caught my attention when I noticed it on the tv guide. A ‘new’ Jack Lemmon film is always a special treat (I just hadn’t expected for Judy to steal the show and all my attention, but hey, like I said, films are full of surprises). 

Hey, but another surprise, mind you- Jack Lemmon’s credit on this has ‘and introducing’ preceding it, so yeah, its his first movie. Funny thing though, like when watching Burt Lancaster in Dark City awhile ago, you see some of these movie legends in their first film and somehow its clear they are immediately destined for greatness. Jack is just perfectly fine in this as Pete Sheppard, a documentary film-maker in New York who bumps into Gladys Glover (Holliday) in Central Park, striking up a connection and eventual budding romance.

it3It Should Happen to You is a romantic comedy with quite timely observations about celebrity, fame and sexual politics that seem to echo down the decades and prove as relevant now as they did back in 1954. Its heartfelt and funny and witty and all those things that Hollywood used to be so good at. I don’t know, maybe its in how gorgeous 1950s New York looks, its all such a far cry from the modern world, there’s something almost sweet about it.  Its a great movie. But of course what really makes it is that startling Judy Holliday, and having never seen her before. I feel like I’ve been under a rock or something, but I’m reminded of all those fantastic books that I’ll never read. Life is so short and there’s just so many great films, books and albums we can just never hope to see, read or hear all of them, certainly not even necessarily the best of them (just have to try to avoid the worst). I can only hope that anyone reading this who has never heard of Judy Holliday heeds my words and corrects that mistake. Meanwhile, I’ve got her Oscar-winning performance to track down…

The Mule

muleWe should be grateful that Clint Eastwood is still around, and that he’s still making movies (really, between him and Ridley Scott, we’re given some sober reminders that the Old School can still hold their own at times). In The Mule he even puts himself in front of the camera, taking the lead for the first time since Gran Torino (I may be wrong there, but I think I have got that right). Its a curious thing seeing him in this. Sure, the years have weathered him and its alarming, seeing a screen icon such as he showing the toll of years just as we mere mortals do in the Real World.

Inevitably however, that status of screen icon, and all the cinematic history his face represents, can cast its own dark shade upon everything he now does. The Mule is a decent, efficient and entertaining film, but it is no classic, and while it is likely one of the better efforts of his later years, it cannot help but pale compared to his best films, his best roles- particularly those whose reputations lie more in what they represent than their actual quality. Against that kind of comparison, even the greats can falter.

So I’ll watch films like The Mule and be thankful that I have lived in a world and a time in which Clint Eastwood has plied his craft, both in front of and behind the camera, and while he may not equal the names like Jack Lemmon, Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder or James Stewart,  still working today there are far lesser than he with greater status than they deserve- its just the way the world is. For my part I’ll just savour the films and the fact he’s still around. And as far as The Mule is concerned, it may not be anything astonishing or contain too many surprises, its still a welcome reminder of when films all had beginnings, middles and endings, and didn’t feel the need for capes and superpowers or CGI spectacle. Eastwood may be overshadowed by the decades of cinematic history behind him, but its a fine reminder of it too.


The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Blu-ray)

pris1Thanks to Warner Archive over in the States we have a newly restored release of The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and on Blu-ray no less. Naturally as I’m a huge fan of the film I ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday, so I watched it that evening. I can report that the film looks absolutely gorgeous, a beautifully detailed HD image with fine grain, incredible detail, no DNR, lovely colour- its damn near perfect, and the best I have ever seen this film look. As the physical formats continue to decline, it makes releases such as this all the more special and treasured, and I thank my lucky stars this is region-free, as I’m pretty certain fairly lowly-renowned films such as this is extremely unlikely to get released over here in the UK (which is a great shame, frankly, and I’d love some UK distributor to prove me wrong and release this and some other Jack Lemmon films in HD over here).

So I watched the film last night and I was quite overcome with how wonderful the experience was – this is one of my very favourite films and to finally have it in this splendid Blu-ray release is just wonderful. To say this release was worth the added expense of having to import it from over the pond is an understatement. The 2019 master is pretty amazing and gives the film a whole new life and vitality, you could be forgiven for thinking its a fresh new film shot last year, except for the fact that it being shot on film gives it a tactile grain and image superior to many modern films shot digitally. The film also features some really impressive widescreen composition, certainly that old pan and scan version I first saw must have been pretty horrific.

Its no doubt some indication of my adoration of this little film that I have mentioned it so many times here on my blog. Its one of those films that I had an instant and intense emotional attachment to- I was in a very low place in my life when I first saw this film by chance on an afternoon tv airing, and it certainly struck a chord in me. Indeed, over the years as I have returned to it that connection, and my love of the film, has remained undiminished- perhaps even heightened as I have grown older and been able to appreciate it even more. Sure, there are better films out there- but few films, in all honesty, mean quite so much to me.

pris3A study of a middle-aged man who becomes unemployed and has a nervous breakdown is perhaps a strange one to describe as a comedy, but it is – its funny and it is sad and there is a feeling of truth and honesty about it, of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cold and indifferent modern city. Jack Lemmon of course is probably my favourite actor and he’s excellent here as the wounded Mel, displaying fragility and pride and, as usual, uncanny comic timing delivering his lines or reacting to others. Anne Bancroft playing his wife Edna, has really good chemistry with him and is no slouch herself with the comedy, and she engenders great sympathy during her characters moments of stress and concern. We really feel the warmth between this middle-aged married couple (I’d hate to imagine how young and physically utopian a modern film versions casting would be).  Thanks to some fine location shooting, the film also serves as something of a time-capsule, capturing a mid-1970s America and New York that does not exist anymore. Its familiar but also there is a distance, a sense of innocence lost: an interesting New York double-bill would be this followed by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, released only a year after and seemingly light years away from this films Second Avenue- it’s a double-bill I really shall have to try sometime.

pris4The film even features the first on-screen performance of an incredibly young-looking Sylvester Stallone. The fact that this year Stallone celebrates his 72nd birthday is a sober reminder of how old this film is and the years that have passed since, and of those we have lost. Jack Lemmon died in 2001, Anne Bancroft in 2005, Gene Saks in 2015, Ed Peck (you may not know the name but he’s a familiar face from a lot of 1960s and 1970s television) in 1992. Infact, of all the cast, I think only F. Murray Abraham (who appears in unlikely cameo as a taxi driver) and M.Emmet Walsh (the apartment buildings inept and  lazy doorman, later a hero of mine from Blade Runner of course), are still alive, other than that young turk Stallone. Behind the screen, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon passed away in 2018 and the films director, Melvin Frank, passed away in 1988. Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away in 2012; how I would love to own a copy of the films marvelous score on CD, something extremely unlikely to ever happen as I don’t believe any of the score was ever released, but you never know, stranger things have happened.

I only write about all the talent we have lost as an indication of the films pedigree and worth, and it’s unlikely place in film history as a little film that could – and a film I absolutely adore. Film fans can attach to films more easily and more faithfully than they can people. This film is proof of that.