Archive for the ‘British films’ Tag

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)   2 comments

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Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.

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“There’s another dead bishop on the landing!”

One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?

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“Surprise!”

To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.

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“A noise? Nah. Must be your imagination.”

All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.

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Must be a special on eel pie.

It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.

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Poor is Hell.

Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.

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Such a pretty shot.

Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.

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“It was a wombat, I tell ya!”

Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.

Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!

Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.

Maniac (1963)   Leave a comment

maniac poster

American artist Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews) stumbles into an isolated village in the Camargue region of southern France and meets Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse).  There’s obvious chemistry between them, but Annette gets blocked by her stepmother, the sexy Eve Beynat (Nadia Gray).  Eve’s still married to Annette’s dad, but he’s out of town so Eve makes a play for Jeff.  She’s very subtle.  After Eve and Jeff go horseback riding, she takes off her blouse and asks him to towel her off.

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“Jeff? Are we still on for tonigh…oh.”

It works.  Soon, they’re making the beast with two backs all over the place and Annette’s left out in the cold.  There’s just one little problem.  Eve still has that pesky husband.  I said he was out of town, right?  Well, he is.  He’s in an asylum for the criminally insane for using an acetylene torch to kill the guy who raped Annette years earlier.

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“Just a little off the eyes.”

And you thought ONE LIFE TO LIVE was complicated.  Eve says her husband has all his marbles.  He just went a bit overboard (a bit) and if Jeff helps him escape from the sanitarium, he’ll leave the country and start a new life leaving Eve and Jeff to do the horizontal mambo as much as they want.  Sounds logical, right?  Jeff, blinded by lust, says he’d love to help a torch-wielding maniac (TITLE-DRINK!) out of the booby hatch and can we do that toweling-off thing again, honey?  Anyway, cool asylum-escaping ensues, but things go a little twisty.  Will Jeff do crimey stuff?  Will Eve’s husband find his matches?  Will Annette get a little action?  Will Eve take Jeff horseback riding again?  Please?

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“An adjustment et voilà! Ready for your close-up!”

Writer Jimmy Sangster loved LES DIABOLIQUES.  He set MANIAC and SCREAM OF FEAR in France and added a bunch of plot twists in both.  He also cast women in lead roles and made them strong and smart.  Eve’s a real multi-tasker too.  She runs a tavern while hatching an escape plot and seducing a young stranger.  Way to go, Eve!  Sangster writes realistic dialogue and the plot hums along nicely.  Director Michael Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper keep the mood tense and the atmosphere noirish.  There are some terrific night shots around the inn and later, they film a nifty climax in a cavernous quarry.

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“This is the biggest version of Don’t Break the Ice I’ve ever seen.”

This film is a hoot.  Despite the over-the-top elements of the story, it’s all very natural.  It’s naturally gruesome, but MANIAC was made by Hammer so they have to have a soupcon of gore.  It’s in the contract.   I had fun watching this one.  The cast, screenplay, location, and complexity combine to make it a fun watch and Sinbad, uh, Kerwin is a cutie.

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“Anybody else see a Cyclops?”

 

Cash on Demand (1961)   Leave a comment

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Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing!) manages a London bank. His micro-managing and general fastidiousness put him at odds with his staff who he belittles every chance he gets.

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“Smudges!”

When Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morrell) from the bank’s insurance company arrives to inspect its security protocols, Fordyce sets out to impress him with his efficiency.  The thing is, the colonel is not from the insurance company and he has a cunning plan.

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Yes, THAT cunning!

Without giving the game away, I can say that CASH ON DEMAND’s director, Quentin Lawrence, knows how to build tension.  What starts out as a slice-of-life drama about a tight-lipped bank manager abusing his staff switches quickly to a race against time to save a family.  In the morning, Fordyce runs roughshod over his subordinates.  In the afternoon, he scurries to save his family, his job, and his freedom.  Writers David T. Chantler and Lewis Greifer adapted Jacques Gillies’ play for the big screen.  That this film started as a play makes sense.  It takes place in three sets, but could easily be done in two or even one.  The excitement comes, not from action, but from acting and a terrific script.

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“Where’s my stake?”

Cushing is brilliant as the mercurial Fordyce who finally feels what it’s like to be under the thumb of a person who has the power of life and death over him.  His transition from haughty to harried develops by degrees and we see his metamorphosis in the few hours the film documents.  Morrell’s Gore Hepburn is fabulous.  He’s sublimely at home ordering Fordyce around and making points with the staff while his devious plan moves along swimmingly.  What a wonderful pair to watch.  Richard Vernon made an impression too.  He plays Pearson, Fordyce’s number two who, because of a small error which was fixed quickly, might lose this position and any hope of finding another.  The entire cast does a wonderful job.

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“Did you steal that thumbtack?”

CASH ON DEMAND is another great Hammer non-horror.  I know Hammer is better known for vampires and busty maidens, but as I watch these smaller, less lavish thrillers, I wonder why they didn’t make more.  They’re wonderful.  I’m going to be sorry when I’ve seen them all.

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Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960)   Leave a comment

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Wow.  Where do I begin?

Peter and Sally Carter (Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford) return home from a reception given to welcome Peter as the new high school principal.  Their nine-year-old daughter, Jean tells them that earlier that day, she and her friend Lucille were at a neighbor’s home where they took off their clothes and danced naked for an old man in exchange for candy.  Let that sink in a minute.

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The innocent child thinks it was a game and isn’t terribly upset.  No one hurt or touched her.  Jean’s parents, of course, are livid and report the incident to the police.  The local sheriff tries to dismiss the charge as the ramblings of an imaginative child, but the Carters know their daughter and stick to their guns.

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Sally files a complaint with the local police.

The culprit, Clarence Olderberry, Sr. is the long-retired patriarch of the wealthiest family in town.  No one wants to ruffle their feathers since most of the folks in this small, Canadian town work in the Olderberry’s mill.  Olderberry, Jr. (Bill Nagy) tries to sweet talk the Carters at first.  When they make it clear that they still plan to press charges, he lets them know that his attorney will rip their little girl apart on the witness stand.  This is going to be ugly.  Despite that threat and the reaction of most of the people in town, the Carters insist on a trial.  All the while, Peter hears murmurs that Olderberry has done this before only to have it hushed up.

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Olderberry, Jr. threatens Peter.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you by telling you too much about the trial and aftermath.  I will say it’s riveting and realistic.  This is no sanitized Hollywood trial with a neat ending and it doesn’t end there.

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Jean takes the stand.

Horrifyingly true-to-life and scarier than any Hammer Gothic horror, NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER whacks you in the head with its frankness.  Writers John Hunter and Roger Garis keep it spare and sharp and director Cyril Frankel doesn’t waste a shot.  Unfortunately, the idea of a well-connected pedophile living next door comes off as a more genuine threat than a vampire in the village.  The acting, direction, and taut dialogue flow so naturally, it seems like someone recorded people talking and included it in the script.  Even the kids can act.

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I enjoyed this film in spite of its subject.  It’s real and well-made and I couldn’t look away.

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER might be a rough watch for a lot of people and understandably so.  My heart was in my throat half the time.  In the other half, I was yelling at characters on the screen urging them to hurry or shut up.  It has that kind of visceral impact.  When the film ended, I had to sit down and catch my breath.  Hammer makes a hell of a thriller.

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Seriously, he’ll make you shudder.

These Are the Damned (1963)   2 comments

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Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) meets lovely Joan (Shirley Anne Field) on the street in a British seaside town and the two walk together toward a pub.  As soon as they leave the main drag, Simon gets jumped by a bunch of Teddy Boys led by Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed).  They beat him savagely and steal his wallet.  It’s clear Joan has acted as bait before, but she’s disturbed by King’s level of violence this time.

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“Look what you’ve done to his hat!!!”

What are Teddy Boys?  Teddy Boys are British teens who dressed in a modernized 1950s/60s version of the Edwardian style.  Some formed gangs and committed petty crimes and were a nuisance generally.

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“That outfit is hideous. You had to be stopped.”

Anyway, Joan sees the error of her ways and joins Simon on his boat.  Simon has a boat.  The two moor at a remote cabin atop a craggy mountain of rock.  The house happens to be the summer home of bohemian artist Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) who happens to be the longtime lover of Bernard (Alexander Knox).

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Freya being all arty and junk.

Bernard?  Bernard runs a top secret military base next door to his girlfriend’s place.  Yup.  There’s a lot of Freya wondering aloud about the purpose of the outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, but Bernard isn’t talking.  We get a vaguely sinister vibe from Bernard and his cohorts Captain Gregory (James Villiers) and Major Holland (Walter Gotell), but no real clue as to their mission until Bernard skypes with some kids in a classroom.

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“I hope you brought your number 2 pencils.”

After we meet the children, we’re left to divine who they are.  Is Bernard training them to be spies?  Are the kids aliens?  Read: THESE ARE THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  We’re not sure about them until Simon and Joan (remember them?) run into the kids’ hideout while escaping King and his cosh boy pals.  Then the whole part science fiction/part Cold War nightmare/part love story plot makes sense.  Well, sort of.

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“A Pakuni kid called Cha-Ka and Sleestaks? What kind of cave is this?”

Director, Joseph Losey doesn’t get too arty, but manages a few suspenseful scenes in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.  Based on the novel, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H.L. Lawrence, the film meanders a bit and is hampered by underdeveloped characters and a less than exciting script.  To be fair, screenwriter Evan Jones had to cram a lot into 87 minutes.  More creative editing might have helped.  There are a few scenes in the first half of the film which, if cut, would have given the plot and characters more time to gel in the second half.  If they had spread the ‘getting to know you’ part all through the film instead of the stock first half, biography, second half, action, the movie might hold more interest.

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“I thought you said there’d be water.”

Alexander Knox does a decent job playing the benevolent captor and Macdonald Carey and Sally Anne Field grow into a nice chemistry as the story progresses.

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“Our love transcends the 20 minutes we’ve known each other.”

Oliver Reed is suitably brutal as the disturbed gang leader.

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“When you’re a Jet…”

I liked watching this film because I wasn’t sure what would happen and the dark ending surprised me.  Hammer Studios made a number of non-Gothic horrors which I generally love.  This one tries to do too much and falls short.  THESE ARE THE DAMNED is watchable though and it’s always fun to see another dystopian Cold War film.

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One of these things is not like the others…

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)   Leave a comment

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British race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) and his new bride, Denise (Diane Cilento) get into a nasty car wreck on their honeymoon.  The accident leaves another driver dead and Alan with a severe head injury.  After months in the hospital, the couple finally head to the French seaside for their wedding trip.  It’s clear that Alan still needs time to recover since every once in a while, he goes into a trance and tries to strangle his wife.

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“If I can just get your neck size…”

What a bore.  Denise dotes on Alan and seems to have made the leap from wife to mother seamlessly.  Since she’s running out of scarves to hide the neck bruises, Denise seeks the help of a psychiatrist they happen to meet on their trip.  David Prade (Claude Dauphin) proposes a radical form of therapy to help Alan remember the accident and stop choking his wife all the time.

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“Just five minutes more.”

Since Alan is paranoid and his moods turn on a dime, Denise lies to him about meeting David to ask for medical advice.  Yup, that goes well.

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“Analyze me, will ya!!”

Will David cure Alan?  Will Alan kill Denise?  Will Denise stop saying Alan’s name all the damn time?  I’ll never tell.  I will say this is a neat little thriller with an unusual psychiatric bent.  Director, Val Guest keeps you guessing and the mood tense.  Parts of the film drag, but even the talky parts keep the plot moving forward.  The script, apart from Denise saying Alan’s name about 82 million times, flows naturally.  Cilento and Lewis are believable lovers and I found myself worried about them both.

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“The doctor said to wear that radio around your neck until you’re cured.”

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL is another fun Hammer thriller.  I’m a big fan of these films.  They’re racier and more violent than most American films of that era and they generally have a more mature attitude toward love and sex.  It makes for a more realistic film which, in turn, makes the scary parts scarier.  Scary is good.

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Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)   Leave a comment

cast poster

Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) leads a life of leisure.  He spends his days taking drives in his fashionable car, shopping, then retiring to his large country home with his wife, Monica (Mona Washbourne).  Monica, or Mony as he calls her, is somewhat older than her handsome husband and comes from a more refined social class.  Despite their differences, Mony loves her Teddy Bare and he, in turn, dotes on his elderly wife.  He is kind and solicitous toward Mony and she takes pains to teach Edward about etiquette and culture.  Everything moves along swimmingly until Mony’s attorney, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng), who dislikes Edward, calls on Mony and asks her to rewrite her will, leaving Edward out.  Mony, you see, inherited great wealth when her first husband died.  Philip is pretty sure that Mony’s money, and not her charm, compelled Edward to marry her.  When the two shoo Edward out of the room to discuss Mony’s fortune, Edward fears the worst.  Edward hears that Mony will sign a new will the next morning.  Assuming the new will excludes him, Edward concocts a hasty plan.  He’ll have to move fast or lose Mony’s wealth and his carefree lifestyle.  Fear convinces Edward to act rashly.

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“Where can I find arsenic at this time of night?”

Without going into too much detail, things go poorly for both Mony and Edward.  Mony won’t be coming down to breakfast and Edward learns he may have jumped the gun a bit.  After Edward’s miscalculation, he needs another sugar momma or he’ll have to do something drastic like get a job or some such nonsense.  Enter Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), a brassy ex-barmaid who married the boss and inherited the pub when he died.  She sold the business and now she has money, but no direction.  Edward is taken with Freda’s straightforward personality and her healthy bank account.  Edward and Freda decide to make a go of it, but she’s no fool.  She knows he’s a fortune-hunter, but she can’t help herself.  Despite her street smarts, Freda falls for Edward.

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Mmmm cute bad boy.

All this time, Philip, the attorney, hangs around Edward hoping he’ll spill the beans about Mony’s suspicious death.  Freda is having none of it though and stands by Edward until another woman enters the scene.  Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh), yet another lonely, rich woman starts to show a little too much interest in Edward and then all bets are off.

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“Freda will just love you.”

I’ve said this before, but I love the look of British films of the 1950s and 60s.  That shadowy black and white quality serves as a great backdrop for actors.  This is not a toney art film and director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me) hangs back and lets the talented cast work.  Dirk Bogarde connives and plans and even outsmarts himself, but he does it so beautifully, you find yourself cheering for him.  Margaret Lockwood always delivers a strong performance.  She’s wonderful as the sarcastic and real Freda.  She was even nominated for a BAFTA for best British actress for her role in this film.  Writer John Cresswell based his screenplay on Janet Green’s play, Murder Mistaken.  The snappy dialogue gives Lockwood and Bogarde a chance to shine and surprises throughout the film keep you guessing.  If you’re looking for a sharp thriller with some black comedy, CAST A DARK SHADOW fits the bill.

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“A whoopie cushion?”

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