Film Review – CAST AWAY (2000)

CAST AWAY (2000, USA) ****
Adventure, Drama, Romance

dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox / Dreamworks Pictures / ImageMovers / Playtone; d. Robert Zemeckis; w. William Broyles Jr.; exec pr. Joan Bradshaw; pr. Tom Hanks, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis; assoc pr. Steven J. Boyd, Cherylanne Martin; ph. Don Burgess (DeLuxe. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383). Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Alan Silvestri; ed. Arthur Schmidt; pd. Rick Carter; ad. Stefan Dechant, Elizabeth Lapp, William James Teegarden; set d. Rosemary Brandenburg, Karen O’Hara; cos. Joanna Johnston; m/up. Daniel C. Striepeke, Kathryn Blondell, Ronnie Specter; sd. Randy Thom, Dennis Leonard, William B. Kaplan, Ken Fischer, David C. Hughes (SDDS | DTS | Dolby Digital); sfx. John Frazier; vfx. Harry Gundersen, Eric Hanson, Ken Ralston; st. Doug Coleman, Bud Davis; rel. 7 December 2000 (USA), 12 January 2001 (UK); cert: PG-13/12; r/t. 143m.

cast: Tom Hanks (Chuck Noland), Helen Hunt (Kelly Frears), Nick Searcy (Stan), Jenifer Lewis (Becca Twig), Geoffrey Blake (Maynard Graham), Peter Von Berg (Yuri), Chris Noth (Jerry Lovett), Lari White (Bettina Peterson), Paul Sanchez (Ramon), Leonid Citer (Fyodor), David Allen Brooks (Dick Peterson), Yelena Popovic (Beautiful Russian Woman), Valentina Ananina (Russian Babushka), Semion Sudarikov (Nicolai), Dmitri S. Boudrine (Lev), François Duhamel (French FedEx Loader), Michael Forest (Pilot Jack), Viveka Davis (Lady from Dick Bettina farm), Jennifer Choe (Memphis State Student), Nan Martin (Kelly’s Mother).

Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems engineer whose personal and professional life are ruled by the clock. His manic existence abruptly ends when, after a plane crash, he becomes isolated on a remote island – cast away into the most desolate environment imaginable. Hanks delivers a superb performance, holding then screen for the most its running time. He superbly relays the character’s instinct and will to survive in a hostile environment along with the mental impact and emotional scars the experience leaves on him. The film is bookended with a set-up and resolution to his relationship with Hunt. It is here the film admirably tries to keep a balanced view but falls into some of the trappings of soap opera, However, the two stars play the scenes perfectly and elevate them above the material. Also notable in a supporting role is Searcy as Hanks’ closest work colleague. Technical attributes are strong. The photography is colourful; the plane crash scene tensely portrays the terror and confusion; Zemeckis directs with a sure hand and uses the FedEx delivery system as a neat way of topping and tailing the story. But it is Hanks’ film and his solo turn on his desert island that is the heart and soul of the production. The film was shot in two blocks over a year apart to allow Hanks to lose weight and grow his hair for the four-year gap in the story.

AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks); Best Sound (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands, William B. Kaplan)

Two new Sky series recall earlier classic British TV with differing results

Intergalactic (2021, UK, Episodes 1-4) **½
Fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who has her glittering career ripped away from her after being wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. But on the way there, Ash’s fellow convicts stage a mutiny and seize control of their prison transfer ship.
Mare of Easttown (2021, USA, Episodes 1-3) *****
As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.

Intergalactic" (2021) British movie posterSky has two series currently available or broadcasting that have their roots in classic British TV series. The first is the heavily publicised British sci-fi action adventure Intergalactic (Sky One), with the whole series of 8 episodes (curtailed from 10 by the pandemic) available to download for subscribers. The series is the brainchild of Julie Gearey and has a largely multi-ethnic female led cast led by Savannah Steyn as a discredited cop forced to serve her sentence off-world, where she falls in with several other prisoners who take over their transport ship, the “Hemlock” (a cool Millenium Falcon styled spaceship) and go on the run from the Common World. In their midst is a terrorist leader, who has her own secrets the Common World need to suppress. An added complication is the Steyn’s mother is the the leader of the Common World security team in pursuit of the escapees. There is much murkiness behind the back story, which gradually becomes clearer as the series progresses. The plot sounds familiar because it is a direct riff on the 1970s classic “Blake’s 7” , only here the action is more violent, the language much coarser, the characters less likeable, the stories less original and the dialogue is a mix of the truly awful and the occasionally witty. The look and tone is also highly derivative in taking elements of “Mad Max”, “Firefly” and Con Air” blending together their more cliched elements. The cast is, on paper, a strong one that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Eleanor Tomlinson, Thomas Turgoose, Natasha O’Keeffe, Oliver Coopersmith, Imogen Daines, Diany Samba-Bandza, Parminder Nagra and Craig Parkinson. Most of the performances are one dimensional and lacking in nuance as the cast struggle to take their characters beyond the machismo of their dialogue. That said there are moments where the potential for a stronger series emerges – I am currently half-way through the run and after a dodgy start there have been some genuinely funny moments as well as a few unintentional ones. Where the series truly scores is in its look. The production design and CGI visual effects are excellent, if occasionally a little over-processed, from the opening shots of London in ruins to the new raised city and beyond into the galaxy. Its often pulpy trash, but it is also somehow strangely addictive as it struggles to add a fun factor.  Hopefully the characters will settle down and become more rounded as the series progresses. For now it borders between the awful and the entertaining as a distinct guilty pleasure. I’ll come back later with my views on the last 4 episodes.

Kate Winslet as Mare SheehanMare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic), on the other hand, is a reminder of the high quality output from American production company HBO (Home Box Office). Here Kate Winslet plays a detective in a backwater Pennsylvania town. She is dogged by the fact she has been unable to solve a missing persons case and is embroiled with a current murder investigation where the suspects come close to home. No doubt the two cases will at some point be linked. In between time, she has her own domestic issues to address following the death of her son, the break-up of her marriage and her grand-parenting duties due to the absent mother, who is wrestling with a drug problem. It all sounds miserably downbeat, but here the writing is so strong and the characters totally believable with a razor-sharp script (written by Brad Ingelsby) injected with dark humour and witty dialogue. So far I have seen the first three episodes (of 7) of the series, which is being run weekly by Sky concurrently with HBO. The story has more than few echoes of one of British TV’s very best series, “Happy Valley”, and I would be surprised if it were not an influence on Ingelsby. Like “Happy Valley” this series has a gripping and multi-layered story with genuine character interactions and superb performances from its cast – most notably Winslet, who is flawless. It is a drama that sucks you into its world and holds you there in its vice-like grip. It looks set to be one of the best series since the turn of the century.

Film Review – THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE (1947, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery

dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Mercury Productions; d. Orson Welles; w. Orson Welles (based on the novel “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King); exec pr. Harry Cohn (uncredited); pr. Orson Welles; assoc pr. William Castle, Richard Wilson; ph. Charles Lawton Jr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; md. Morris Stoloff; ed. Viola Lawrence; ad. Sturges Carne, Stephen Goosson; set d. Wilbur Menefee, Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Jean Louis; m/up. Clay Campbell, Robert J. Schiffer, Helen Hunt (all uncredited); sd. Lodge Cunningham (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Lawrence W. Butler (uncredited); rel. 24 December 1947 (France), 7 March 1948 (UK), 14 April 1948 (USA); cert: -/PG; r/t. 87m.

cast: Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Erskine Sanford (Judge), Gus Schilling (Goldie), Carl Frank (District Attorney Galloway), Louis Merrill (Jake Bjornsen), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Harry Shannon (Cab Driver).

Michael O’Hara (Welles), an Irish adventurer, is lured by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), beautiful wife of a crippled but successful lawyer (Sloane), into joining the crew of her husband’s yacht bound for a cruise in the Pacific. Bannister’s partner, Grisby (Anders), joins the party and offers O’Hara five thousand dollars to help him frame a disappearance act intended to look like murder. O’Hara accepts, hoping the money will enable him to get Elsa away from her husband. As you would come to expect from Welles the director, the film is full of technical brilliance and is visually stunning. Of the memorable scenes the funhouse finale is the most iconic and has been copied numerous times since. The performances are excellent with Welles convincingly affecting an Irish accent and Hayworth at her alluring best. Sloane and Arden are both sinister and on the verge of being unhinged. The bizarre story, however, must rely on the film’s technical virtues to paper over its implausibility. The script therefore, despite its adventurous and sometimes witty approach, is the weak link that prevents the film from being an out and out classic. That does not mean there is not much to enjoy in this experimental noir, just do not expect it to hang together as a whole. Welles’ original rough cut of this picture ran 155m.

Film Review – CRIMSON TIDE (1995)

CRIMSON TIDE (1995, USA) ***½
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Buena Vista Pictures; pr co. Hollywood Pictures / Don Simpson-Jerry Bruckheimer Films; d. Tony Scott; w. Michael Schiffer (based on a story by Michael Schiffer and Richard P. Henrick); exec pr. Lucas Foster, Mike Moder, Bill Unger; pr. Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson; assoc pr. James W. Skotchdopole; ph. Dariusz Wolski (Technicolor. 35mm (Eastman). Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Hans Zimmer; ed. Chris Lebenzon; pd. Michael White; ad. James J. Murakami, Dianne Wager, Donald B. Woodruff; set d. Mickey S. Michaels; cos. George L. Little; m/up. Ellen Wong, Ron Scott, Michael Mills; sd. George Watters II, John P. Fasal, William B. Kaplan (Dolby Digital); sfx. Al Di Sarro, Darrell Pritchett; vfx. Hoyt Yeatman; st. Steve Picerni; rel. 12 May 1995 (USA), 3 November 1995 (UK); cert: R/15; r/t. 116m.

cast: Denzel Washington (Hunter), Gene Hackman (Ramsey), Matt Craven (Zimmer), George Dzundza (Cob), Viggo Mortensen (Weps), James Gandolfini (Lt. Bobby Dougherty), Rocky Carroll (Lt. Westergaurd), Jaime Gomez (Ood Mahoney), Michael Milhoan (Hunsicker), Scott Burkholder (TSO Billy Linkletter), Danny Nucci (Danny Rivetti), Lillo Brancato (Russell Vossler), Eric Bruskotter (Bennefield), Ricky Schroder (Lt. Paul Hellerman), Steve Zahn (William Barnes), James Lesure (Guard #2), Trevor St. John (Launcher), Dennis Garber (Fire Control Technician), Matthew Barry (Planesman), Christopher Birt (Helmsman).

After the Cold War, a breakaway Russian republic with nuclear warheads becomes a possible worldwide threat. U.S. submarine Capt. Frank Ramsey (Hackman) signs on a relatively green but highly recommended Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Washington) to the USS Alabama, which may be the only ship able to stop a possible Armageddon. When Ramsay insists that the Alabama must act aggressively, Hunter, fearing they will start rather than stop a disaster, leads a potential mutiny to stop him. Despite its implausible concept, Scott turns out a tense battle of wills between Hackman and Washington. The premise is contrived to build a debate around these men’s opposing views on military procedure and ethics. Their opposing arguments are made intelligently in the first half of the movie, but once a “mutiny” has been triggered the debate is seemingly resolved by the scriptwriters before the final act is played out. This moves the story into a more familiar race against the clock scenario, which plays out in predictable fashion.  What carries the film along, despite its flaws, are the compelling performances of its two stars who are perfectly cast. The tension remains high throughout and the technical attributes are first class. Scott avoids his penchant for showy visuals and concentrates on letting his camera capture the nuances in the performances of his lead actors. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Towne both contributed to the screenplay without credit. Extended version runs to 123m.

AAN: Best Sound (Kevin O’Connell, Rick Kline, Gregory H. Watkins, William B. Kaplan); Best Film Editing (Chris Lebenzon); Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (George Watters II)

Film Review – THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017)

GREATEST SHOWMAN, THE (2017, USA) **½
Biography, Drama, Musical
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Bona Film Group / Chernin Entertainment / TSG Entertainment / Twentieth Century Fox; d. Michael Gracey; w. Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon (based on a story by Jenny Bicks); exec pr. Tonia Davis, Donald J. Lee Jr., James Mangold; pr. Peter Chernin, Laurence Mark, Jenno Topping; ph. Seamus McGarvey (Colour. D-Cinema. ARRIRAW (3.4K) (6.5K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format). 2.39:1); m. Benj Pasek, Justin Paul; s. “The Greatest Show” (performed by Hugh Jackman, Keala Settle, Zac Efron, Zendaya & The Greatest Showman Ensemble) m/l. Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Ryan Lewis, “A Million Dreams” (performed by Ziv Zaifman, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Skylar Dunn, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely), “Come Alive” (performed by Hugh Jackman, Keala Settle, Daniel Everidge, Zendaya & The Greatest Showman Ensemble), “The Other Side” (performed by Hugh Jackman & Zac Efron), “Never Enough” (performed by Loren Allred), “This Is Me” (performed by Keala Settle & The Greatest Showman Ensemble), “Rewrite the Stars” (performed by Zac Efron & Zendaya), “Tightrope” (performed by Michelle Williams), “From Now On” (Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams & The Greatest Showman Ensemble) m/l. Benj Pasek, Justin Paul; m sup. Mark Wike; chor. Shannon Holtzapffel, Ashley Wallen; ed. Tom Cross, Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll, Spencer Susser; pd. Nathan Crowley; ad. Laura Ballinger; set d. Debra Schutt; cos. Ellen Mirojnick; m/up. Nicki Ledermann, Whitney James, Jerry Popolis, Mary L. Mastro; sd. Dror Mohar, Lewis Goldstein (Dolby Digital | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Garry Elmendorf; vfx. Mathieu Raynault, Anish Ratna Tuladhar, Mark O. Forker, David Isyomin, Eran Dinur, Chris LeDoux, Gaia Bussolati, Radley Teruel, Prabhakar Maharjan, John Helms, Cliff Welsh, Dann Tarmy, Vincent Poitras, Martin Lipmann, Keith Sellers; st. Victor Paguia, Mathieu Leopold; rel. 20 December 2017 (USA), 26 December 2017 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 105m.

cast: Hugh Jackman (P.T. Barnum), Michelle Williams (Charity Barnum), Zac Efron (Phillip Carlyle), Zendaya (Anne Wheeler), Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind), Austyn Johnson (Caroline Barnum), Cameron Seely (Helen Barnum), Keala Settle (Lettie Lutz), Sam Humphrey (Tom Thumb), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (W.D. Wheeler), Eric Anderson (Mr. O’Malley), Ellis Rubin (Young Barnum), Skylar Dunn (Young Charity), Daniel Everidge (Lord of Leeds), Radu Spinghel (O’Clancy), Yusaku Komori (Chang), Danial Son (Eng), Paul Sparks (James Gordon Bennett), Will Swenson (Philo Barnum), Linda Marie Larson (Mrs. Stratton).

Growing up in the early 1800s, P.T. Barnum (Jackman) displays a natural talent for publicity and promotion, selling lottery tickets by age 12. After trying his hands at various jobs, P.T. turns to show business to indulge his limitless imagination, rising from nothing to create the Barnum & Bailey circus. Featuring catchy musical numbers, exotic performers and daring acrobatic feats, Barnum’s mesmerizing spectacle soon takes the world by storm to become the greatest show on Earth. This is a triumph of style over content. The musical numbers are expansive, well-choreographed and wonderfully performed. The story , however, is given little room to breathe with short dialogue interludes serving to advance the plot between the songs. This would work well on stage, but in a movie it feels like the characters are short-changed and as a result the whole production is given an air of artificiality. This is not helped by the songs, which whilst memorable feel anachronistic. The result is a detached experience in which you can admire the spectacle without really caring about what is going on.

AAN: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) (Benj Pasek, Justin Paul for the song “This is Me”)

Film Review – BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)

BLACK NARCISSUS (1947, UK) ****½
Drama
dist. General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK), Universal Pictures (USA); pr co. The Archers / Independent Producers; d. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; w. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (based on the novel by Rumer Godden); pr. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; ph. Jack Cardiff (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Brian Easdale; ed. Reginald Mills; pd. Alfred Junge; cos. Hein Heckroth; m/up. George Blackler, Biddy Chrystal (both uncredited); sd. Stanley Lambourne (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); vfx. W. Percy Day; rel. 24 April 1947 (UK), 13 August 1947 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 101m.

cast: Deborah Kerr (Sister Clodagh), Flora Robson (Sister Philippa), Jenny Laird (Sister Honey), Judith Furse (Sister Briony), Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth), Esmond Knight (The Old General), Sabu (The Young General), David Farrar (Mr. Dean), Jean Simmons (Kanchi), May Hallatt (Angu Ayah), Eddie Whaley Jr. (Joseph Anthony), Shaun Noble (Con), Nancy Roberts (Mother Dorothea), Ley On (Phuba).

A group of Anglican nuns, led by Sister Clodagh (Kerr), are sent to a mountain in the Himalayas. The climate in the region is hostile and the nuns are housed in an odd old palace. They work to establish a school and a hospital, but slowly their focus shifts. Sister Ruth (Byron) falls for a government worker, Mr. Dean (Farrar), and begins to question her vow of celibacy. As Sister Ruth obsesses over Mr. Dean, Sister Clodagh becomes immersed in her own memories of love. The tension is slow build in this superbly shot tale of sexual repression. The theme is represented by Kerr and Byron’s struggles to come to terms with their celibacy and young native girl Simmons’ need for sexual expression. All this was quite daring in 1947 and the film was heavily cut on its initial release in the USA. Powell and Pressburger take their time in building the antagonism between the characters until a perfect final act in which the suppressed rage boils to the surface in Byron’s superbly unhinged Sister Ruth. Make-up design, superb colour photography (Cardiff’s use of lighting and colour tones is exemplary) and editing all come together magnificently to produce this climactic dramatic cocktail. The backdrops were blown-up black-and-white photographs. The Art Department then gave them their breath-taking colours by using pastel chalks on top of them. Remade as a TV mini-series in 2020.

AA: Best Cinematography, Color (Jack Cardiff), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Alfred Junge)

Film Review – MAN AT THE TOP (1973)

MAN AT THE TOP (1973, UK) ***
Drama
dist. Anglo-EMI Film Distributors (UK), Ambassador Film Distributors (USA); pr co. Anglo-EMI / Dufton / Hammer Film Productions; d. Mike Vardy; w. Hugh Whitemore, John Junkin (based on characters created by John Braine); exec pr. Nat Cohen; pr. Peter Charlesworth, Jock Jacobsen; ph. Brian Probyn (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1 (original ratio), 1.75:1 (intended ratio)); m. Roy Budd; m sup. Philip Martell; ed. Chris Barnes; ad. Don Picton; cos. Laura Nightingale; m/up. George Blackler, Elaine Bowerbank; sd. Claude Hitchcock, Terry Poulton (Mono); rel. May 1973 (UK), May 1975 (USA); cert: 15; r/t. 92m.

cast: Kenneth Haigh (Joe Lampton), Nanette Newman (Alex), Harry Andrews (Lord Ackerman), John Quentin (Digby), Mary Maude (Robin Ackerman), Danny Sewell (Weston), Paul Williamson (Tarrant), Margaret Heald (Eileen), Angela Bruce (Joyce), Charlie Williams (George Harvey), Anne Cunningham (Mrs. Harvey), William Lucas (Marshal), John Collin (Wisbech), Norma West (Sarah Tarrant), Clive Swift (Massey), Jaron Yaltan (Harish Taranath), Tim Brinton (Newsreader), John Conteh (Black Boxer), Nell Brennan (Waitress), Patrick McCann (White Boxer).

Northerner Joe Lampton (Haigh) becomes involved with Lord Ackerman (Andrews), the powerful chairman of a pharmaceutical concern, his beautiful wife Alex (Newman), and daughter Robin (Maude). But trouble starts when Joe is made Managing Director of one of Ackerman’s companies and makes a shocking discovery: his predecessor committed suicide. Mixing business conspiracy and social comment this third cinematic take on John Braine’s ambitious working class career climber has its moments without ever really catching fire. Haigh’s performance lacks a certain subtlety, accurately capturing the nature of his character but making him a little too one-dimensional in the process. The moral that plays out is “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and there is a certain hypocrisy in Lampton’s self-serving actions. The film is shot with an element of cold realism heightened by Budd’s spare score. Whilst Haigh is on screen the story is always interesting if its path leads to an unsatisfying, if inevitable, conclusion. Based on the TV series (1970-2), which in turn followed ROOM AT THE TOP (1959) and LIFE AT THE TOP (1965).

Film Review – LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962)

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962, USA) ****
Drama, Western
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Rank Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Joel Productions; d. David Miller; w. Dalton Trumbo (based on the novel “Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey); exec pr. Kirk Douglas (uncredited); pr. Edward Lewis; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (B&W. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; m sup. Joseph Gershenson; ed. Leon Barsha; ad. Alexander Golitzen, Robert Emmet Smith; set d. George Milo; cos. Stanley Kufel, Peter V. Saldutti; m/up. Dave Grayson, Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; sd. Waldon O. Watson, Frank H. Wilkinson (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); st. Bob Herron; rel. 27 April 1962 (UK), 24 May 1962 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 107m.

cast: Kirk Douglas (John W. “Jack” Burns), Gena Rowlands (Jerry Bondi), Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson), Michael Kane (Paul Bondi), Carroll O’Connor (Hinton), William Schallert (Harry), George Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez), Karl Swenson (Rev. Hoskins), William Mims (First Deputy Arraigning Burns), Martin Garralaga (Old Man), Lalo Rios (Prisoner).

Douglas gives one of his best performances as a cowboy out of his time who attempts to break a friend (Kane) out of jail and is then pursued through the mountains by the local sheriff (Matthau). The film is played out for the most part from Douglas’ perspective as it laments the passing of the old west, which has been taken over by technological progress. The mix of drama and dry humour may seem jarring to some but adds a sense of realism as the humour is never over-played. There is brutality, represented by Kennedy’s sadistic jail warden. The humour is mainly played out through Matthau’s sheriff’s wilting exasperation at the incompetence of his men. There are symbolic scenes demonstrating the core theme of a modern west with the unforgettable bookends and Trumbo’s screenplay adaptation is well observed, excepting the jailbreak scene, which feels a little too easy. Douglas is superb and gets into the soul of his character and Lathrop’s black and white photography adds to the yearning for nostalgia. The section showing Douglas’s ascent of the mountain with his horse is depicted with authenticity and generates considerable suspense. Reported to be Douglas’ favourite of all his films. This was Carroll O’Connor’s film debut. An overlooked gem.

TV Review – BLACK NARCISSUS (2020)

Black Narcissus' Gets FX Premiere Date, Trailer And Key Art Released –  DeadlineBLACK NARCISSUS (TV) (2020, UK) ***
Drama
dist. BBC One (UK), FX Network (USA); pr co. DNA Films; d. Charlotte Bruus Christensen; w. Amanda Coe (based on the novel by Rumer Godden); exec pr. Ayela Butt, Amanda Coe, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Lucy Richer; pr. Cahal Bannon; assoc pr. Vivien Kenny; ph. Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Anne Dudley; ed. Jinx Godfrey; pd. Kave Quinn; ad. Andrea Matheson; cos. Kave Quinn; m/up. Nicole Stafford, Emmy Beech; sd. Ben Barker, Glenn Freemantle (Dolby Digital); sfx. Mark Meddings; vfx. Samantha Townend st. Jamie Edgell; rel. 23 November 2020 (USA), 27 December 2020 (UK); cert: NR; r/t. 165m.

cast: Gemma Arterton (Sister Clodagh), Aisling Franciosi (Sister Ruth), Nila Aalia (Angu Ayah), Patsy Ferran (Sister Blanche), Rosie Cavaliero (Sister Briony), Gianni Gonsalves (Srimati Rai), Soumil Malla (Joseph Anthony), Alessandro Nivola (Mr Dean), Wayne Llewellyn (Sannyasi), Dipika Kunwar (Kanchi), Chaneil Kular (Dilip Rai), Jim Broadbent (Father Roberts), Diana Rigg (Mother Dorothea), Aashish Shrestha (Phuba), Gina McKee (Sister Adela), Prabal Sonam Ghising (Pin), Komal Ghambole (Samya), Kulvinder Ghir (General Toda Rai), Karen Bryson (Sister Philippa).

A group of nuns face challenges in the hostile environment of a remote old Himalayan palace that they wish to make a convent. This adaptation of the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden suffers from being drawn out over three one-hour episodes as there really is no three act structure to contain it. The story relies on a gradual building of tension as the nuns battle with their sexual repression and their environment. The pluses are the excellent production values and photography and Dudley’s baroque score. There are fine performances too from Arterton and Franciosi as well as Cavaliero. The tension builds nicely in the final half hour, but the drama could have been edited down into a two-hour version and delivered a stronger dynamic. Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 movie version therefore remains definitive, despite the valiant attempts to more accurately reflect the source material here.

Film Review – BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

52 Before 62 – # 2 Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) | The Last Blog Name On  EarthBAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.

cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).

John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.

AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).