Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cars & Girls

Playboy's Connie Kreski

Tea Up!

Julie Christie

Out On Blue Six : Joan Armatrading

Isn't this just beautiful? I must admit, I first heard it many years ago over the credits of the 'Rodney Come Home' 1990 Christmas episode of Only Fools and Horses, I've loved it - and Joan - ever since.

Joan's music has been put to good use with BBC comedy again recently; Down To Zero is the theme to Paul Whitehouse's latest, tender comic drama, Nurse on BBC2 Tuesday nights.

End Transmission

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Theme Time : Mari Wilson - Coupling

Before the mighty ratings successes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, Steven Moffat gave us....

Well actually he gave us Press Gang

OK, I've rewound a bit too far.

Somewhere before Sherlock and Doctor Who and after Press Gang, Moffat gave us...

Well, Joking Apart and Chalk.

OK, let's not remember Chalk.

Before Sherlock and Doctor Who and sometime after Press Gang, Joking Apart and Chalk (I thought we weren't mentioning that?) Steven Moffat gave us....


I loved Coupling and though, at the time of its broadcast it was compared to US sitcoms Friends and Seinfeld, I maintain that the recent US hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother liberally stole from Coupling (which US TV had tried to adapt for themselves, with a disastrous pilot) with its quirky complicated stories of incestuous friends who meet down the pub or wine bar.

The show ran on BBC2 from 2000 to 2004 and was a firm favourite in my own set of friends at that time as it was the kind of programme that seemed to speak directly to that generation focusing as it did on the dating, sexual adventures and mishaps of six friends played by Jack Davenport, Sarah Alexander, Gina Bellman, Richard Coyle, Ben Miles and Kate Isitt. In the fourth and final series, Coyle's departure led to a new character played by Richard Mylan, but neither he nor this series was a success. 

Beehived retor songstress Mari Wilson who had achieved some chart success in the 1980s performed the popular easy listening song 'Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps', written by Osvaldo Farrés and Joe Davis, to accompany the opening and closing credits. The Latin song, written in the late '40s as 'Quizas, Quizas, Quizas', had originally been a hit for Bobby Capo and is perhaps most famously sung in its English language version by Doris Day.

This evocation of complicit romance and the 1960s this lounge lizard classic has was further enhanced by the credits that accompanied it, and let's not forget that kind of retro 50s and 60s Latin/Lounge stuff was really in fifteen years ago when Coupling was made. Most famously the credits were described by Mark Lawson thus  "brightly coloured and suggestive shapes swirl around the screen: circles, curves and angles tumble like limbs locked together in sex. As the names of the actors discreetly sweep across in black lettering, the bright shapes form the title: ''Coupling".  Elegant simplicity, showing how a clever choice of theme tune can evoke an atmosphere and set a pace to which images can be cut."

I started watching Coupling again last night and intend to watch every episode - yes, possibly even series 4! - the first episode was still as funny as I remembered and had me laughing a couple of times, which is pretty good going I'd say.

Strongroom (1962)

I was so impressed by The Man In The Back Seat earlier this week that I immediately tracked down another B movie from Vernon Sewell which again starred Derren Nesbitt and Keith Faulkner as a couple of crooks - Strongroom, made a year later in 1962 and running at a tight 75 minutes.

One Easter Saturday, Nesbitt and Faulkner and another crook, Faulkner's brother, played by William Morgan Sheppard hold up a bank run by the stuffy and aloof manager, Colin Gordon (who, like Nesbitt, played one of the Number 2's who so oppressed and confused Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 in The Prisoner) and his secretary played by Ann Lynn. As they empty the vault, they're disturbed by the arrival of the cleaning ladies upstairs. Panicking, the three men force the manager and the girl into the strongroom, sealing them inside.

The crooks aren't callous however, and Morgan Sheppard's character heads off intending to drop the strongroom keys off somewhere and notify the police where they are to release the trapped bank employees before they run out of air. 

But, as with The Man In The Back Seat, bad luck besieges the crooks and Morgan Sheppard dies in a car smash en route, Nesbitt and Faulkner being notified by the police round at the latter's flat (with the loot sitting atop the kitchen table!) This time around it is Nesbitt's character who is struck by conscience and he coerces Faulkner to park his grief and his more unrepentant manner to one side and try to collect the keys from the mortuary his brother is now lying in rest in, before they are hung for murder. More bad luck is thrown at the pair however when it is revealed the dead man's possessions cannot be handed over until the mortuary receive permission from the police and coroner.

All the while Gordon and Lynn's bank employees are trapped in the strongroom. In their claustrophobic situation, the pair slowly open up to one another in a manner which the restrictions and formalities of work had never allowed them. But, as they try increasingly desperate methods to escape, they estimate they have just twelve hours of air between them and a long bank holiday weekend ahead. 

Written by prodigious TV scriptwriters Richard Harris and Max Marquis, Strongroom isn't as special as The Man in The Back Seat but it remains a tense slice of British Noir which once again casts both Nesbitt and Faulkner well as young offenders with the shadow of the noose over them. They make a fine team in both pictures and its satisfying to see the roles reversed a little here. The atmospherics of these early 60s films and the tone and look of their central performances to me mirror the real life crimes of the time and there's just something about that final freeze frame shot that reminds me of news footage for the likes of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig.

Perhaps not a film for those with claustrophobia though!

Wordless Wednesday : Rain on the Roof

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Spring and Port Wine (1970)

Spring and Port Wine tells the story of a patriarchal battle of wills in a small Bolton household between obdurate Rafe Crompton (James Mason) and his children, chief among them Susan George who defies him by refusing to eat a plate of herring one evening, leading him to serve it up for her day after day.

Bolton born playwright Bill Naughton (Alfie, The Family Way) delivers his own adaptation of his stageplay here and it rather shows; Spring and Port Wine is not the film to go to if you're after action and high drama. But, if like me you enjoy a slice of 60s kitchen sink, then there's much to enjoy here.

Mason heads up a great cast including Diana Coupland (Bless This House) as his wife, Hannah Gordon and the aforementioned teatime rebellious George as his daughters Rodney Bewes (The Likely Lads) and Len Jones (the voice of Joe 90) as his sons. Over the course of the film, each character comes to challenge the stubborn, strict ways of the patrician leading him to realise he needs to be more flexible and allow his children to be the adults they are or are on the way to becoming.

There's also some great and familiar faces in supporting roles too including Frank Windsor from Z Cars, the delightful Adrienne Posta - a firm favourite of mine - as well as Dad's Army's Arthur Lowe and Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw. Though admittedly the latter two, billed as 'special guest appearances' contribute very little in their extremely brief scenes and the roles could have been taken by anyone. Perhaps if they had been so, the film would feel less like an elongated sitcom at times.

But for me the real star of Spring and Port Wine is the town of Bolton which is beautifully captured in its 1960s fading glory here as it was in the (admittedly superior) Naughton film The Family Way some four years previously. I was born and still live not far from Bolton and for many years it was a town to visit on a regular basis for its market, so its nice to see it here with its row of terraced houses, its newly built council estates and the industrial scenery surrounding it.

It's not the best of the genre by any means, but it remains an enjoyable watch now as it was the first time I saw it which, I can well recall - watching it on TV after being given the afternoon off junior school and swimming class to attend a verruca clinic!

Tea Up!

Diana Dors

Specs Appeal

My favourite movie star, Michael Caine, with my very first crush, Cybill Shepherd.

Such a shame then that the film, Silver Bears, is a bit of a dud!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Out On Blue Six : Peter Frampton

End Transmission

The Man In The Back Seat (1961)

The Man in the Back Seat is such a clever, terse and well crafted slice of British B movie Noir that to actually call it a B movie feels like a great disservice.

Written by Malcolm Hulke (a staunch Communist who would go on to write many politically heavy parables and satires for the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who) and Eric Paice and directed by B movie and supporting feature master Vernon Sewell, The Man in the Back Seat is a swift 57 minutes and sadly half-forgotten film that still manages to give considerable pleasure today, thanks to its effective Noir atmosphere, tight, restricted setting and a trio of central performances that haven't dated in the slightest.

Derren Nesbitt and Keith Faulkner star as small-time crooks Tony and Frank who, one ill fated evening, jump a greyhound track bookie (Harry Locke - a familiar face in British cinema) only to find that the loot they desire is in a security bag chained to his wrist. Piling the unconscious victim into the back seat of his own vehicle, the pair take off in panic determined to first free the bookie from his money and then free themselves of him altogether. 

But, as with the traditions and tropes of the best heist-gone-wrong movies, Whenever the two try and ditch their unwanted and silently oppressive charge, some accident or twist of fate intervenes, making them go on with their burden, descending further into guilt, desperation and ultimately tragedy.

Benefiting from some truly atmospheric, night-time location shooting in London, The Man in The Back Seat delivers an increasingly fraught, anxious and nightmarish tone that climaxes with the ultimate nightmare which sees the titular bookie haunt the pair, staring in silent accusation much like Banquo's Ghost at Macbeth's feast.

At the centre of the film is a trio of truly strong performances from Nesbitt, Faulkner and, as the latter's wife, Carol White. Nesbitt delivers his usual charismatic and icy characterisation that ensures, despite his soft spoken manner, that he is the more dominant and dangerous of the two crooks. He displays a wholly immoral nature and uses gallows humour to alleviate his situation, whilst his leg in plaster delivers a potent metaphor for his crippled morality. Faulkner has more morality and, as such, has more of a guilty conscience; he's been persuaded into the heist by his smooth talking friend and the rest of the film sees him trying to be talked out of his fate by his wife Jean, played by a superb eighteen year old Carol White in a naturalistic performance that ranks alongside her impressive work in later years with Ken Loach.

The Man in the Back Seat is a half forgotten gem that comes highly recommended from me and, despite or perhaps even because of its enforced budget and great imagination, it can easily hold its own with many other, more celebrated examples of fatalistic British Noir from that era.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967)

As some of you may have guessed by now (I know Michael O'Sullivan has) I've commenced something of a Carol White fest since watching Dulcima earlier this week. It's primarily for Letterboxd, the film review site I post on, but I'm naturally sharing some of the reviews here, including this one for the second Carol White film I've watched today (the first being The Fixer) 1967's I'll Never Forget What's'isname....

Andrew Quint (Oliver Reed) has the lot. A successful job in advertising, a wife and children and two incredibly attractive mistresses (one of whom is Marianne Faithfull no less!) but  we meet him on the day he decides to jack it all in in the most spectacular fashion; striding purposefully across swinging London with an axe slung across his shoulder, he enters his office and attacks his desk with it before offering his resignation to his overweight Machiavellian and effete employer played by Orson Welles.

Intending to get back to basics he returns to the job he had when he came down from Cambridge, that of a literary agent with a small magazine called The Gadfly run by his friend Nicholas played by Norman Rodway. There he meets secretary Georgina (Carol White), and the pair begin a rather gentle tentative affair. But like the Mafia, it appears that once you've signed up to advertising it isn't all that easy to leave it behind... 

I'll Never Forget What's'isname reunites director Michael Winner with star Oliver Reed and writer Peter Draper (The System and The Jokers) for this Modish and acerbic and satirical exploration of the rat race and how success and its inherent affluence cannot be traded in for the simple honesty of the ideals once held in youth.

Being honest I've never truly enjoyed a Michael Winner film that much, but these swinging 60s entries made alongside Reed and Draper offer a modicum more satisfaction than his later output. His kaleidoscopic style here nicely accompanies the tongue in cheek potshots Draper's script offers on their go-getting generation and mutual contemporaries with some nifty editing and interesting shots but, like a lot of Winner films, there's a real dark and violent undercurrent which is more at home here with both the disturbing and tragic counterpoint to the final act and the rather bitter message on offer - that once you're in the rat race you can never get out.

The film is perhaps now best known for 'doing a Tynan' and being the first film to use the word "Fuck" (though an adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, which also came out that year, also has a stake in that claim) It comes near the end of the film when, lured back to make another advert for Lute, Quint delivers the ultimate scathing examination of his lot, mixing footage of atom bomb explosions, and mass graves with Marianne Faithfull (who else?) shouting "You fucking bastard!" It's meant to be the two fingered salute to end them all, the dog biting the hand that feeds him but, ironically, it's celebrated as a masterpiece and wins an award, making for an interesting and distinctive darker take on the swinging sixties than many other films of that era.

But the trouble is, like all Winner films, there doesn't seem to be an awful lot on offer other than its main message. Sure its delivered fashionably enough but perhaps it needed to actually be more of a character study on Quint himself than it actually is and in many ways the flash, quirky visual style hinders as much as it helps the film. Indeed, characterisation is not one of his or Draper's strong suits and poor Carol White gets the glamourous dollybird role she always wanted,  but little else. Her part is so paper thin - a virginal, beautiful saviour for Reed's Quint - that she has little to offer in her big break away from the more authentic and credible work she had done with Ken Loach. 

It's left to Oliver Reed to carry the film on his broad shoulders and he does well as a brooding depiction of modern dissatisfaction; handling the scenes in which he loses his cool and control as brilliantly as one would expect from such an electrifying, physical actor.

The Fixer (1968)

John Frankenheimer's The Fixer is a film based on Bernard Malamud's semi-biographical 1966 novel of the same name which was inspired by the real life trial and controversy of  Menahem Mendel Beilis, a Jew in Tsarist Russia falsely accused of having murdered a Ukrainian boy named Andrei Yushchinsky, with the ritual murder of blood libel being presented as the alleged motivation.

It features a great and sensitive Oscar nominated performance from Alan Bates as the Beilis inspired character of Yakov Bok, an apolitical 'fixer' (decorator, repair and odd job man) put through the wringer of Russia's anti-semitic society and its subsequent Kafkaesque legal system for a crime he did not commit. His only ally is Dirk Bogarde's compassionate defender, but there is only so far he can go to give Bok the justice he so deserves.

Unfortunately The Fixer is a film of two halves. The first half is a great set up which sees Bates mistaken for a Christian by an act of Good Samaritanism (is that a word? It is now) He goes along with this dishonesty, enjoying the perks of an untroubled, honest and respected working life previously unknown to him as a Jew until his real identity is revealed. From there a tissue of lies threaten to swamp him; he's charged with raping the daughter of the man he helped when in fact he spurned her advances (and only because she was menstruating - there's actual a very wicked funny line in this scene; as Bates heads towards the bedroom naked, he glances down to his groin and, realising its circumcised state would betray him for the religion he is, declares it 'a stool pigeon' before wrapping a towel around himself) of stealing money from his employer and celebrating Passover and lastly, and most damning of all, of ritually murdering a Christian boy he had chased off the land he worked on.

The second half is all about the three years Bok spent in prison awaiting trial and suffering unspeakable cruelty and hardships whilst Europe petitioned the Tsar on his behalf. It is this half of the film that becomes, naturally enough, a really bleak slog. Gone here are the amusing, wry monologues Bates was given in the first half and instead Frankenheimer and his scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo repeatedly hammer the audience over the head with their message; this is wrong. Yes, we know it is. They also become fascinated with the Christ like parallels with Bok's torturous imprisonment. We know this because they s-p-e-l-l it out for us time and time again. Message movies are all well and good, but when the makers constantly have to point out the message it makes for a rather arduous and patronising experience - as if they think we're too stupid to understand for ourselves. Frankenheimer should have had faith in not just his audience but in his cast, specifically Bates who delivers something really credible here.

There's also a small but important role for Carol White (watched this week in Dulcima, Never Let Go and, once again last night, Poor Cow) but the script offers her little to do except look tired and emote - rather than act - an awful lot. A great shame. The rest of the cast is filled out by the likes of Ian Holm, Murray Melvin, Elizabeth Hartman and David Warner.

Interestingly the Beilis family, led by his son David, despised The Fixer,  or more specifically Malamud’s novel , claiming they the fiction had turned their dignified well liked family man into “an angry, foul-mouthed, cuckolded, friendless, childless blasphemer.” Despite Malamud's claims that Bok was not Beilis it is generally agreed that the actual truth has become difficult to separate from his fact based fiction, as is so often the case.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Never Let Go (1960)

It could all have been so different.

Originally, Never Let Go had cast Peter Sellers to play Cummings, the keen salesman whose life falls apart when his car is stolen, and Richard Todd signed on to play Meadows, the brutal head of car theft operation. Either role would have been diversion for both men; Todd, the veteran of the D Day landings who had portrayed several military heroes in war films such as The Dam Busters, was in no way known for his villainous roles and likewise, Peter Sellers the Goon Show and comic film star was not known for straight drama. But there was something about the Never Let Go script, some desire to break away from his established persona, that made Sellers determined to play Meadows and he set about persuading Todd to  switch roles with him. That he did succeed in this exchange makes Never Let Go, a minor British Noir, worth watching for - as the poster below proclaims - the ''new Peter Sellers - tough and ruthless!''

There's little special about Never Let Go. Alun Falconer's plot is so distinctly small fry it appears to wish to emulate and update Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves in its suggestion that to rob a man of his means of transport is to rob him of his ability to earn his livelihood. The direction by John Guillerman is efficient enough and Christopher Challis' cinematography makes good use of the shadows and contrasts as befits the Noir/gangster genre, but there are better British Noir films out there - such as Hell is a City and Night and the City.

No, what makes Never Let Go is that tough and ruthless Sellers.

As the menacing Meadows Sellers, as he did with all his alter egos, created something well rounded and very distinctive. His hair is thick and wavy, he sports a trim moustache above a stiff, clenched grimace masquerading as a smile. His accent hails from Lancashire or Cheshire - round my necks of the woods certainly - and is nasal, almost as if he begrudges wasting breath on the people he has to threaten or taunt. He patrols his empire with a puffed up, barrel chested gait, arms simian loose at either side. Physically, his rigid manner is one of coiled barely controlled anger which, when unleashed is abrupt, startling and explosive to behold. Just as he was known to do with his comic personas, so too did Sellers take Meadows home with him, a disastrous and abusive side effect for his then wife Ann Howe. Bearing this in mind, one wonders whether it wasn't just the stated fact that Never Let Go flopped at the cinemas that saw Sellers refuse to take such obviously villainous straight dramatic roles in future.

Interestingly, the role of Cummings isn't without its edge either. Driven to desperation over the theft of his car, Todd depicts this seemingly mild mannered salesman as someone who slowly becomes unhinged as his determination to retrieve his car and bring Meadows to justice blinds him to reason and leads him to violence that matches that of his nemesis in a superbly shot final action scene. 

Without Sellers, Never Let Go would be a small noirish B movie of some minor interest for a rainy day matinee, allowing the viewer of a game of 'spot the actor' featuring as it does the likes of David Lodge (Sellers' long time friend from WWII) John Le Mesurier, Nigel Stock, a young Carol White as Sellers' teenage runaway kept woman and pop star turned actor Adam Faith as one of his crooks whose heart belongs to White - both these young stars of the 60s deliver good performances by the way but, as the decade progressed, they would hone their craft to deliver far better for future projects - and a toe tapping, suitably brassy score from future Bond composer and the songwriting partner of Faith's, John Barry. 

With Sellers, Never Let Go becomes that little bit more special and, when he's off the screen, the film becomes a whole lot duller.