Archive for August 2014
“Horses ain’t like people, man. They can’t make themselves better than they’re born.”
Charlie (Mickey Rourke) puts the finishing touches on his ensemble as Frank Sinatra croons Summer Wind in the background. Like the dressing scene in American Gigolo (1980), this glimpse into Charlie’s pre-work routine gives us some insight into his character. Unlike Gere in Gigolo, Charlie travels in working class circles, but yearns for something more. He manages a restaurant in a predominantly Italian New York City neighborhood and dreams of owning his own place. His ne’er-do-well cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) works as a waiter in the restaurant and from the start we see what an irresponsible man-child he is. After Paulie steals from the restaurant, the owner fires him and Charlie. Desperate for money to support his ex-wife and son and to pay the rent, Charlie agrees to help with the burglary of a payroll office. They’ll stroll into a closed office building, Barney (Kenneth McMillan) a clock repairman and small time thief will open the safe, and the three men will walk out $50,000 richer. Easy, right? A side story involving crooked cops, local wise guys, and dirty money complicates their simple caper and the rest of the film shows us the strength of Charlie and Paulie’s friendship.
The break-in and its aftermath don’t drive The Pope of Greenwich Village though. The characters do. Filled with actors like Val Avery, Tony Musante, M. Emmet Walsh, and Burt Young, the film has a real neighborhood bar look to it. Performances by Geraldine Page and Jack Kehoe as a mother and son stand out. The Academy nominated Page for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in this film, but she lost out to Peggy Ashcroft for A Passage to India. All I can say is Ashcroft must have been awesome because Page hits it out of the park. I couldn’t take my eyes off her boozy, chain-smoking mother or make a sound for fear of missing a single word she spoke.
All the characters have great lines. Vincent Patrick wrote the novel and screenplay and has a real feel for his characters. An exchange between Paulie and his father played by Philip Bosco has the dad telling his son about a relative who is successful. He has a wife and kids and a home. Paulie counters with, “Pop, he shines his own shoes.” When his dad asks Paulie what success means to him, he says “I took 500 from shylocks, Pop, to see Sinatra at the Garden. Sat two seats away from Tony Bennett. That’s success, Pop.” Those few lines speak volumes about Paulie. Charlie has some great things to say too. When Charlie’s girlfriend Daryl Hannah gets fed up with Paulie’s antics she asks, “When are you going to outgrow him, Charlie?” Charlie answers, “Diane, maybe WASPS outgrow people. Italians outgrow clothes, not people.”
Why am I in this film? Oh right.
Originally, The Pope of Greenwich Village had Robert DeNiro cast as Charlie and Al Pacino as Paulie with Michael Cimino directing. Delays in the shooting schedule forced Cimino to drop out so DeNiro and Pacino followed. Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Laughing Policeman) directed and does a nice job of giving us the feel of the neighborhood and the people who live there. Music by Dave Grusin lets you know this is a film from the 1980s, but the real reasons you watch this film are the performances by Rourke and Roberts. Rourke showed great promise in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) and Roberts impressed critics with his performance in Star 80 (1983). Together they have great chemistry. Scenes with the two cousins walking arm in arm through the neighborhood or swaying to a Sinatra song while taking over a kids’ stickball game look natural. You believe they grew up together. I recommend this film. It falls short in showing you Charlie’s one foot in each world indecision, but as a character study full of lovely, small performances, it succeeds. Look for a fun bit of business with a tow-happy policeman and a horse physic and Mink DeVille’s pretty song Just to Walk That Little Girl Home.
I wrote this piece for the 1984-a-Thon hosted by forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com on twitter @ForgottenFilmz
Check out his blog and the other films reviewed for this blogathon.
A series of bizarre deaths plagues a small community. Local officials, unable to deal with an emergency of this magnitude call in the pros from Dover.
Not these guys.
The imported scientist, sensible law enforcement professional, and smart-ass guy with horse sense team up to thwart the evil ant/spider/squid/gerbil/shark’s plans for world domination or chowing down the locals. People die. At least one person does something massively heroic. Stuff blows up. In one last ditch effort to save the world from the mutant lemming/reindeer/gnat, our plucky hero takes a wild stab and saves the day. The End. I’ve just described the plots to Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Thing From Another Planet, a bunch of less professionally made B-movies from the 1950s/60s, and Jaws. I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Jaws is a drama or an action/buddy picture, but it’s not horror. To that I say, “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” Wait. Of course Jaws is horror. It’s also a drama with comedic moments, a buddy picture, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Jaws ticks a lot of boxes.
Director Steven Spielberg took the biggest novel of the day and its author, Peter Benchley, his actors, crew, and a barely functioning mechanical shark to Martha’s Vineyard to make one of the best movies of the last 40 years. The film opens with the violent death of a young girl in the ocean off fictitious Amity Island. Told by the coroner the cause of death is shark attack, chief of police Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces him to keep them open saying “We need summer dollars.” Meanwhile, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to consult with Brody as to whether or not they have a shark problem.
Did you see a shark?
They do. The public deaths of two more people force Vaughn to close the beaches and hire Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to catch them a porker. Bonding ensues. There’s also chumming and knot-tying and drunken story-telling and death.
If the story sounds simple, that’s because it is. The simplicity of the story allows Benchley and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who also plays the local newspaperman, to fill it up with complex characters and great dialogue. When Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) meets Hooper she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.” When Mayor Vaughn stubbornly refuses to listen to Hooper and Brody and says the beaches will stay open Hooper says, ”I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” Great stuff.
“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
-Mayor Larry ‘Hot Lunch’ Vaughn
The characters have some depth too. Through their anecdotes and conversations we learn more about Brody, Hooper, and Quint than cop, scientist, and crusty sea-dog. The men indulge in some macho one-upsmanship including a funny scene in which Quint chugs a can of beer (Narragansett, or ‘Gansett in the local parlance) and crushes the can. Hooper drains his drink and crushes a Styrofoam cup. Then there’s THE scene. Brody dumps chum over the side of the boat. He turns to make a smart ass comment to Quint, then turns back just in time to see a huge shark come up beside him. He backs up slowly to Quint in the cabin and says the famous, ad-libbed line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
After a day of shark hunting, the boys toss back a few and the exchange that follows has become one the most famous scenes in modern cinema. According to Steven Spielberg, he first asked Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but they both turned it down. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw. I like both Marvin and Hayden, but I can’t think of anyone other than Shaw in the role of Quint. His speech and spot-on delivery about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is a gorgeous example of story-telling. Writer Howard Sackler (Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire) had the idea for the speech. John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now) gets most of the credit, but Robert Shaw, also a writer, polished and delivered it over two nights. Editor Verna Fields pieced together the two readings to make the speech as we know it. She also blended real shark footage with that of Bruce, the mechanical wonder and made it look real…and scary. The rest of the film is a rollicking good time that is better seen than described. Since we’ve gotten to know these three men, we care when we see them in danger. They care too. You see it in their faces.
Great writing and acting make Jaws a wonderful film. What elevates it to top ten list status is the music. Spielberg chose to work with John Williams in Sugarland Express the year before after hearing Williams’ score for The Reivers. He asked Williams to score Jaws and that choice made the film. The soundtrack moves from ominous and suspenseful to joyous and light-hearted seamlessly and Spielberg uses the music to punctuate his scenes. Spielberg knows a good thing when he hears it. Williams has scored all but two of his films.
The writing, cast, and acting combine with the beautiful location to make Jaws a terrific film, but it’s the little things that make it one of my favorites. I love when Brody knocks over the paintbrushes in the hardware store and grimaces. When he tells his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer to make Beach Closed signs he says, “Let Polly do the printing.” Then there’s that great dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach.
Later Quint sees Hooper’s high-tech equipment and says, “Jesus H. Christ, what are you some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Perfect. I grew up in Massachusetts and have spent time on the Cape and islands all my life. The phrases and cadence in Jaws are pretty darn good. My dad says Jesus H. Christ on occasion. The accents even pass for the most part. One of the town council sounds more like Maine than the Vineyard, but we’ll let that go. Even Quint’s brogue of sorts fits.
I love Jaws. My top ten changes around as I see new films and re-watch old favorites, but Jaws is always there…looming in the depths.
I wrote this piece for the Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled http://kelleepratt.blogspot.com/ on twitter @IrishJayhawk66
Michael It Rains…You Get Wet http://le0pard13.com/ on twitter @le0pard13
Aurora of Once Upon a Screen http://aurorasginjoint.com/ on twitter @CitizenScreen
Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a prisoner of the Vichy French travels, in manacles, to a French POW camp. Stoic and confident, Gerbier says little and observes much. It’s clear from his demeanor and his treatment by the camp’s commandant that he’s more than a simple smuggler. After an audacious escape from Gestapo custody, Gerbier meets up with his comrades in the French Underground and we begin to understand his importance. We meet the members of Gerbier’s underground cell after his escape as they gather to assassinate the turncoat who ratted him out.
It’s a tense series of scenes in which a group of civilized men are forced by war to perform uncivilized acts. These acts and the missions they accomplish daily have formed the group into a de facto family, with Gerbier at its head. The men, along with Mathilde (Simone Signoret) work well together. They carry out their orders efficiently and without question. They’re accustomed to taking risks. Clandestine meetings, signals to their comrades, and smuggling supplies are the norm. A scene in which Mathilde smuggles a radio in her bag under some fruit reminded me of something Bob Crane would do in Hogan’s Heroes. That doesn’t mean the scenes were dull or ordinary. Insightful direction by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge, Bob Le Flambeur) keeps the pace brisk, but he knows when to linger on a scene or on a character’s face. We even get to see the characters relax a bit.
When Gerbier goes to London via submarine with the leader of their organization to get funds and supplies, he tours the city with his friend. They even see a film. After a screening of Gone with the Wind, Luc (Paul Meurisse) says, “The war will be over for the French when they can see this wonderful movie.” It’s a small moment, but one I watched a few times because it said so much.
With its narration and onscreen date and location stamps, Army of Shadows feels like a documentary. Under the guise of a procedural, a story takes shape. The story Melville presents is one of suspense, bravery, sacrifice, and love. The Resistance members risk everything to save their country from evil. They respect and even love each other and go to great lengths to protect one another. That sounds heavy and ponderous, but it’s not. Melville lets us know enough about the characters to care about them so when they face danger, we feel it. Army of Shadows is an account of one group of resistance fighters and how they interact. It’s a patriotic WWII film. It’s an action movie with some real weight. Joseph Kessel wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with Melville. The story has enough twists to make it interesting and the acting is superb. I had never seen Lino Ventura before this film. He was a perfect choice. His quiet authority gave him the look of a natural leader. Simone Signoret is always wonderful and I wish Jean-Pierre Cassel had a bigger part. Eric DeMarsan’s music fit. The jangly piano he added to a few scenes gave the music a crazy quality I liked. This film kept me on the edge of my seat. After seeing Army of Shadows, I look forward to seeing Melville’s other films.
I wrote this for Tyson Carter’s wonderful film blog http://headinavice.com/ and his Recommended By blogathon. Really fun idea, Tyson! Jay from http://www.007hertzrumble.com/ , a cool blog mostly, but not entirely devoted to James Bond musings and music, recommended Army of Shadows and the rest of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films to me and I’m glad he did. Thanks, Jay! Great stuff!
Tyson is also on twitter @Tysoncarter as is Jay @007hertzrumble and me @echidnabot
A series of mysterious deaths, most of them children, follow the nightly German bombings during London’s blitz. After investigating, the Army learns that before their deaths by explosion these children all found a brightly-colored object resembling a thermos and died after approaching or touching it. Eager to learn something about the booby-traps and how to diffuse them, Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) seeks the aid of Sammy Rice (David Farrar), a highly regarded scientist in a top-secret intelligence investigation unit. The unit, housed in a dingy, small back room crack codes, test weaponry, and generally solve problems no one else can. Sammy, the de facto leader of the group meets Stuart and they decide he will call Sammy the next time they find a bomb so he can come to the scene and study it to prevent more deaths.
Sammy goes to work the next day and we see his co-workers. Till, played by Michael Goodliffe works on codes, ciphers, and statistics. Corporal Taylor (a young Cyril Cusack) deals with munitions. Joe (Emrys Jones) spends most of his time between assignments on the phone with his girl. Sue, played by the lovely Kathleen Byron serves as secretary and is having a secret affair with Sammy. The group works well together. They depend on Sammy to advocate for them with the higher ups. With a few exceptions, the middle and upper management are self-serving buffoons interested more in their own advancement than the safety and happiness of the men under them. A fine example of this is a trip the Minister of their section makes to the lab. The men put on a dog and pony show for the insipid man, beautifully played by Robert Morley, and show him some phony experiments to dazzle him. He leaves happily discussing restaurants with the obsequious Waring (Jack Hawkins) and the men can get back to work. Full of in-fighting and political intrigue, the department holds no interest for Sammy. Sammy sidesteps the political machinations, but never states his own opinion preferring to avoid conflict and responsibility. It’s clear he should be running the group, but he refuses to make any effort to do so.
Sammy has other things on his mind. We find out early in the film that Sammy has a drinking problem. Bitter over an accident ten years before which left him with a prosthetic lower leg and in pain, Sammy turned to drink. He no longer drinks whiskey, but it takes resolve and the help of Sue to keep him sober. Sue is always there to support him when Sammy starts to falter. She adores him and he loves and depends on her. It’s a much more adult love story than most films of the 1940s and Farrar and Byron have amazing chemistry. Their physical relationship is implied as well. Soon, the pressures of Sammy’s job, his pain, both physical and mental, and his alcoholism threaten to end his affair and sabotage his career.
All the while, bombs continue to fall on London and more die as a result of them and the booby traps. Captain Stuart and Sammy along with their crews work to stop the senseless killing. The scene with a hungover Sammy and a bomb on a beach is as suspenseful as they come.
In the commentary included on the Criterion version of The Small Back Room, Michael Powell refers to this film as a love story first and a WWII film second. Marketing The Small Back Room as a war film was a mistake, Powell says. No one wanted to see war films in 1949, so the film did poorly at the box office. That’s too bad because the film is a gem. Based on a book by Nigel Balchin, it has everything. A riveting story, characters we care about, and realistic acting by the entire cast make the film a joy. It’s one of those films that makes you wonder what happens to the characters after the film ends. It also looks fabulous. Christopher Challis, who worked as a camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 masterpiece Black Narcissus did the cinematography for The Small Back Room. John Hoesli served as art director and Hein Heckroth did the production design. The artists really got to show off in one scene which reminded me of the surrealism of Milland’s bats in The Lost Weekend.
Composer Brian Easdale even used a theremin to highlight the agony of an alcoholic trying valiantly to resist the drink. I can’t say enough about The Small Back Room. The performances by Farrar, Byron, Gough, Cusack, and the whole cast along with gorgeous black and white cinematography and wonderful production values courtesy of The Archers work. I highly recommend it.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot to mention Stonehenge. They shot part of the film at Stonehenge. So the film has terrific acting and writing and it also has Stonehenge…and a theremin. You owe it to yourself to see this.
Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow), pilot, electrical engineer, and bon vivant, pilots a radar research plane full of radar researchers. During the flight, Mitch reports seeing a UFO.
The Air Force scrambles its fighters, but no one else sees anything unusual and radar comes up empty. Everyone makes fun of Mitch and calls him names and plays keep away with his hat until planes begin to go missing. Now even the authorities begin to take notice.
Did you see something?
Finally everyone from General Considine (Morris Ankrum) to weather mathematician (?) Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) believes Mitch and needs his help desperately. Instead of telling them all to pound sand, Mitch agrees to investigate. On a flight to return to the scene of the bird, Mitch and Sally discover a pattern and each other. After some sexual innuendo disguised as baseball metaphors, Mitch draws his spiral on Sally’s map and they’re engaged…or something.
At this point we meet the required novelty character, Pierre. Pierre has an outrageous ‘Savoir Faire is everywhere’ accent and makes apple jack in his quaint cabin. He sees La Cocoña, a mythical Canadian creature with the face of a wolf, the body of a woman, and wings, and promptly goes into shock. Pierre kindly invited them into his home and sheltered them so after he sees the French Canadian Bigfoot, Mitch and Sally desert him because they’re sweet. Anyway, the creature described as big as a battleship…a lot, continues its ‘fantastic orgy of destruction’ (thanks, movie) destroying planes and eating the passengers dramatically with cool crunching sounds.
We get to see Battleship Bird plucking victims from a Miami swimming pool and a London street. He’s a quick flier. We even see the goofy bird crushing the UN building in New York and hanging out atop the Washington Monument.
The Deadly Mantis, released the same year, visited the monument as well. I wonder if they got some kind of group rate. So the Army shoots at the bird and the Air Force strafes it to no avail until they get a scientist. Dr. Norman (Edgar Barrier) looks like a guy Ed Wood would know and says things like “You’re both right and wrong.” He explains that the big bird consists of matter/anti-matter and Scotty mentions dilithium crystals and before you know it, Spock has a goatee and a sash. I digress. The scientists devise a plan, but one of them can’t make it so they have to bring Sally which is a drag because she’s a girl and all. They rig up an anti-large bird thingee and get on a plane and things are tense because they forgot a part and Radio Shack doesn’t exist yet and since there was no Giant Claw II: The Molting, you can probably guess what happens.
Trust me, honey. Just close the window.
I like this movie because a giant malicious muppet dangling from a very obvious wire threatens the entire world and a guy who combs his hair with a pork chop comes to the rescue. Mara Corday is lovely and she and Morrow have some nice chemistry going. Morris Ankrum does his general thing admirably and the squawking sounds of the bird make me giggle. Director Fred Sears (Earth vs the Flying Saucers, Crash Landing) tries for a Cat People effect by showing only the bird’s shadow for the first part of the film. All bets are off, however when he shows the whole googly-eyed bird and the challenge…and the fun is to believe this ungainly behemoth could really accomplish all the destruction in the film. As with most mutant creature films of the 1950s, the science is less factual and more two boys chatting in a sandbox about dinosaurs. Also the fact that Mitch, as a free-lance pilot, has the ear of the joint chiefs strained credulity. The Giant Claw makes up for all that with its patented drinking game. If you take a swig every time a character says ‘big as a battleship’, you’ll forget all your doubts and possibly your first name. So stock up on mixers and watch a big puppet eat planes. You’ll be glad you did.
Best line in the film: “I’m the chief cook and bottle washer in a one man bird watcher society.”
-Mitch MacAfee (wordsmith)
How the hell are ya?!
Billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) owns an island. He wants to turn the island into an amusement park so he mines amber for the dinosaur DNA found in preserved mosquitoes and uses it to make dinosaurs. Of course he does. In the hands of any other director and cast this might come off as the nineties version of Sharknado, but since Steven Spielberg, Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and JEFF GOLDBLUM direct and star, it works. Suspension of disbelief, you say? Oh yes.
Say what again.
I believed every frame of every scene because Spielberg and company sold me. B.D. Wong plays a smug scientist in a lab coat? Check! Samuel L. Jackson sips a tasty beverage while chain-smoking and writing code? Check! Wayne Knight whines and annoys everyone while sabotaging decades of work? Newman! Check! Martin Ferrero plays a bloodsucking lawyer more interesting in the bottom line than safety or due diligence? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple of PhD dinosaur groupies? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple? Check! Jeff Goldblum plays a hip leather-clad chaos theorist? Check and mate!
Cue: angelic music.
The coolest member of the cast, Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Ian Malcolm who espouses chaos theory, teases Hammond, and questions everything. He even puts the moves on Dern when Neill isn’t looking. Brought to Hammond’s island along with Neill and Dern to give the park his seal of approval and assuage investors’ fears, Goldblum’s Malcolm is funny, skeptical, and charmingly irreverent. In the words of John Hammond to Ferrero’s lawyer, “I bring scientists. You bring a rock star.” Damn straight. Malcolm is a rock star. Fashionably intellectual and fatally attractive in black leather, Malcolm makes key observations about the fault in Hammond’s logic. When told that they control dinosaur breeding in the lab, Malcolm’s not buying it. After arguing with Wong about it Malcolm says “I’m simply saying that life finds a way.” Yup.
Oops. They bred.
Malcolm has the best lines all through the film. When Hammond asks his opinion of his scientific achievements, Malcolm says, “The lack of humility before nature is staggering.” Hammond mentions his advancements in DNA research to which Malcolm replies, “You wield it like a kid who’s found his dad’s gun.” Hammond points out that he’s created life to which Malcolm replies ”Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Brilliant. We’re supposed to care about Neill and Dern and Hammond’s grandkids played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello and we do, but honestly, I wanted to see dinosaurs and Dr. Malcolm. Fangirling much? You could say that, but how can you resist Goldblum, at his hottest I might add, cracking wise and asking Neill whether Dern is single. To explain his question he adds “I’m always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm.” Fabulous.
John Williams’ music adds to the mood of the film, as always, and the production values are stellar. Spielberg spared no expense in making the best ‘old rich guy wants to have the coolest theme park so he makes dinosaurs oops they’re eating a guy’ film imaginable. He picked a great crew, a great cast, and a great Michael Crichton concept. Together they made a cool film that never fails to get me hooked. And Jeff Goldblum.
I wrote this for the Goldblumathon hosted by Barry of Cinema Catharsis fame. Thanks, Barry! Here’s his blog. http://cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com/
I can be reached on twitter @echidnabot
Please, check out https://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/
Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.
Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.
Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”
Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.
I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot