Friday, March 31, 2017


2016, US, directed by Ron Howard

Seen on an airplane journey, and awful on every level.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


1932, France/Germany, directed by Robert Siodmak

The French-language version of Siodmak's Stürme der Leidenschaft, starring Charles Boyer rather than Emil Jannings. This is very early Siodmak, though it has some of the darkness and melancholy of the American films that brought him to greatest prominence in the 1940s, and it shows that he was already an assured hand with narrative. Visually, it's not overly distinctive, though several brief passages in the final third are more obviously Siodmakian. 

Monday, March 27, 2017


1962, UK, directed by Val Guest

This is a contribution to the 2017 vintage of the Late Films Blogathon, hosted, as ever, by David Cairns at his wondrous blog Shadowplay

It's perhaps a bit cruel to suggest that Jigsaw belongs in Late Films company given that Val Guest was only halfway through his lengthy and eventful life when he filmed the picture, but his career often teetered on the edge and took an undeniable nosedive shortly afterward, so we'll say that this marked the beginning of the end, and a very long final phase it was. There's not much to redeem you once you're stuck helming Confessions of a Window Cleaner, though. 

Jigsaw is much more solid stuff, and like Guest's Hell is a City, made two years earlier, makes for a revealing glimpse into provincial Britain of the early 1960s; the films function as a fascinating north/south Manchester/Brighton diptych, with some compelling moments of local colour, perhaps especially in the earlier film. Structurally, Jigsaw is a fairly straightforward procedural, with Jack Warner playing the lead detective, and like many a later TV show the focus is resolutely on the professional rather than the personal lives of the cops -- there are brief mentions of offscreen lives, another contrast to Hell is a City, in which Stanley Baker's home life plays a critical role (interestingly, both films give prominent thanks to the local police forces, though the Mancunian force hardly benefits from Baker's portrayal). 

Warner is already well advanced in years here, well over the usual retirement age for the average copper -- not that it stopped him playing the lead in Dixon of Dock Green until 1976, a most remarkable feat given that the character was shot dead on his first appearance in 1950. The gravitas of age works rather well here -- unlike a younger detective, Warner has no need to get himself all hot and bothered over each and every lead, proceeding instead methodically through his inquiries, with Guest playing up shoe leather much more than forensics. He orchestrates a clear, compelling march through the exploration and elimination of leads, married to an intriguing depiction of the back-streets of Brighton and surrounds. We're not quite on the seamy side of the tracks, and yet the setting is always something just a little short of respectability, too -- as though the town's true colours come out in the off-season. 

The film also plays with the permissible when it comes to sex and violence in a way that feels of a slightly later era -- though Guest is careful to avoid anything truly gruesome, preferring to have our imaginations add the most ghoulish touches, and the point-of-view shots lack the truly terrorizing quality of, say, Peeping Tom. As David himself has written elsewhere, such modest pushing of the envelope was characteristic of Guest's work at the time, though there's no hint of the lurid on this occasion -- there's a dour, even sour, quality to the depiction of the sordid crime that has at least as much in common with the more domestic dramas of the era as it does with Guest's lively work for Hammer.

While Warner remained highly visible on television for another fifteen years, this was close to his swansong on the big screen, and I must confess that I've always found his bluffly English stolidity rather appealing -- there's not even the hint of a surprise in his depiction and yet it's low-key and effective, grounding the film in a sense of the real that complements the location shooting. The support is generally good, too -- Michael Goodliffe is very well-cast slightly lower down the class spectrum than we usually see him, which of course immediately makes him rather louche, as though he's done something vaguely disreputable and can't get better work than as a hoover salesman; the same might be said of the character played by John Barron, an actor who usually had a more military bearing, often as something of a martinet. There's also a glimpse of Ray Barrett, a key presence in many films of the Australian cinema revival of the 1970s and 1980s, although unlike Goodliffe and Barron he's entirely straight-laced here, in contrast to his most memorable roles back home.  As is sadly too often the case in films where women serve as victim, there are far less notable roles for female actors, though Guest does assign a key smaller part to his wife, Yolande Donlan, who turns the part into something far more memorable than the script probably deserves. 

The poster above seems to have little in common with the actual film -- I'd say the producers were disappointed that Guest delivered such a solid piece of work, not well-suited to the exploitation advertising that the poster suggests. For better or worse, Guest would give them what they wanted with most of the rest of his oeuvre...

Friday, March 24, 2017


2017, US, directed by James Mangold

Sunday, March 19, 2017

It Always Rains On Sunday

1947, UK, directed by Robert Hamer

An atypically downbeat Ealing film, set over the course of the titular day with some brief flashbacks, and centered on a manhunt/criminal back on his home turf. The picture of British domesticity is very carefully and precisely undercut, with the crowded London streets seen to harbor a good deal more than they seem, while the East End’s market-sellers and Jewish businessmen (both legitimate and somewhat less legitimate) get an extended onscreen airing. Unlike in Hell is a City, which I watched immediately before this, there is a certain air of doomed romance, and while some commentators link that atmosphere to pre-war French films, I thought it equated at least as closely with some of the cynicism and sourness of immediate post-war French film.  

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Hell is a City

1960, UK, directed by Val Guest

An excellent, unusual British crime film set in Manchester and centered on a manhunt/man-to-man battle of wits between a criminal back on his home turf and an experienced, hard-bitten detective (Stanley Baker), marred only by a score that is rather intrusive at times. There’s nothing romantic about the criminals here, and indeed there’s a brutality in the depiction of the central crime and its aftermath that I don’t usually associate with the time period. In addition to a wonderful gallery of mostly northern character actors, there are some very fine bits of location business: pubs, backstreets, and moors and, in one extended sequence, wasteland used for a game of coin-tossing of the kind we see some years later in Wake in Fright – oddly enough another film featuring Donald Pleasance. The picture was made with the cooperation of the Manchester police, notable mainly because Baker’s character is less than entirely positive, particularly with respect to his home life. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Grand Central Murder

1942, US, directed by S. Sylvan Simon

A very efficient programmer that functions in some ways like an extended Agatha Christie unmasking: after some brisk early business, all of the suspects and several cops are gathered together to unravel a knotty mystery, with the lead detective in competition/collaboration with a wiseguy private dick/possible suspect (Van Heflin). There’s a breezy blend of tones -- murder, family dynamics, running jokes, banter -- that works very well, and the budget stretches to a good deal of location shooting that makes for an atmospheric and unusual backdrop. The camera movement is also quite creative in the cramped room where most of the action takes place, the camera roaming from one person to another as conversations evolve. 


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Boston, Massachusetts, United States