Archive for the ‘Richard Attenborough’ Tag

All About Iago: All Night Long (1962)   4 comments

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O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.

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“What a great party! Nothing can possibly go wrong tonight.”

Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) hosts a party at his London brownstone. It’s a surprise anniversary party for friends Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). The couple and their guests, the best jazz musicians in London, gather to celebrate and listen to each other jam. As the group of friends talk and toast, a note of suspicion drifts into the scene. Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), the drummer for Rex’s band, wants to step out on his own. He also has a thing for Rex’s wife, Delia. Tired of playing in someone else’s band, Johnny wants his own group even if sabotaging Rex is the only way to get it.

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“I’m going to stare at Rex until he lets me go solo.”

Does this sound familiar? In All About Eve, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) wanted the lead role promised to Margot Channing (Bette Davis) in an upcoming play. Eve also wanted Margot’s director boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill) for herself. A little backstabbing here and there and Eve almost got everything she wanted. Watching All Night Long, I could almost picture Karen (Celeste Holm) asking Eve if all this heartbreak and treachery was worth it just for a part in a play. Eve answers, “I’d do much more for a part that good.” Eve and Johnnie Cousin would get along great.

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“Pardon me. I have to go sharpen my knife.”

The allusions to Othello are more obvious. Johnnie Cousin as Iago plants the seeds of jealousy and mistrust in Rex (Othello) by implying that Delia (Desdemona) is cheating with Cass (Cassio). Instead of Iago planting Desdemona’s handkerchief on Cassio, as in Shakespeare’s play, Johnnie plants Delia’s cigarette case on Cass which enflames Rex’s jealousy and sends him over the edge.

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“He never tries to destroy my life at home.”

Slowly and subtly, Johnnie plants a word here, a rumor there, until Rex doubts the loyalty of his road manager, Cass (Keith Mitchell) and even his wife. To add fuel to the fire, Delia and Cass have been meeting secretly while the band tours to rehearse a song they’ll perform at the party as a gift for Rex. Hearing about these clandestine, but innocent meetings along with Johnnie’s other lies convinces Rex that he’s being duped. Rex lashes out and what started as a happy occasion ends in violence.

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“Out, damned sp…oh wrong play.”

Basil Dearden directed controversial films in the 1950s and 60s. He started with Sapphire in 1959 which concerns the racially-motivated murder of a young girl. Dearden went on to make the terrific film Victim in 1961. In Victim, Dirk Bogarde plays a successful barrister who stands up to a ring of criminals blackmailing homosexuals. Both films deal frankly with taboo subjects while avoiding stereotypes. The subjects are people with flaws who make mistakes and Dearden treats them fairly. In All Night Long, a few of the musicians smoke pot and there are references to drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Most mainstream, non-exploitation films of the early 60s don’t refer to anything like that. Then there’s the obviously controversial mixed marriage and mixed romance in All Night Long. Delia is white and Rex, black. Cass is white and his love, Benny (María Velasco) is black. Aside from the Othello connection, the big deal in this film is that there is no big deal. The romances simply exist. No one calls attention to them.  Five years later in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the subject of mixed marriage is the whole film. Dearden tackled important issues well before most of his colleagues.

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“Honey, we’re breaking new ground.”
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. We’re kissing on the stairs.”

Any discussion of All Night Long must mention Philip Green’s music. It’s glorious. Even if you think Coltrane is how we transport briquets, you’ll probably enjoy this score. Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, and other renowned jazz musicians play pick-up sets throughout the film. They play themselves and their instruments as both an accompaniment and an accent to the story. During tense scenes, the incessant drum beat takes a toll on the ones being squeezed and the device works. It comes off as natural. I mean, it’s hard to complain about a film that begins with Charles Mingus casually playing bass alone on stage while he waits for the party to start.

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Attenborough toasts Mingus. Mingus toasts Attenborough.

Here’s where I wax rhapsodic about one of my favorite character actors. Patrick McGoohan, most famous for his lead role in the enigmatic science fiction/spy series The Prisoner also starred in Ice Station Zebra and appeared in and directed a few of the best episodes of Columbo. In All Night Long, McGoohan even says his trademark, “Be seeing you.” McGoohan has the best part in All Night Long. His smug, obsequious Johnnie Cousin can’t wait to drop his little rumor bombs and walk away, returning in time to witness the explosions and offer to help. His intricate plan has so many twists, you can see Johnnie’s wheels turning every time another character speaks.

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“I’m not plotting against you or anything.”

Johnnie has set the machinations in place, but he needs to think on his feet too. McGoohan looks great in this film.  He even learned to play the drums to appear more natural in the part. As for the rest of the cast, Richard Attenborough did lovely work in the 1960s and this part, although small, makes a difference. Attenborough’s kindness highlights McGoohan’s cruelty. Betsy Blair is all restraint as McGoohan’s sweet, long-suffering wife. Paul Harris and Marti Stevens make believable lovers. Warm and honey-voiced, Stevens convinces as the object of desire for her talent as well as herself. Her rendition of All Night Long is lovely and full of emotion.

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“Did he call you Number Two?”

All Night Long takes risks. A cast full of jazz stalwarts and solid character actors, a plot written by Shakespeare and updated by Nel King and Paul Jarrico, and a catchy jazz soundtrack make for an unusual and entertaining film.

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Dave Brubeck trades fours with Charles Mingus. Nothing to see here.

Note: Paul Jarrico appears in the credits as Peter Achilles. Jarrico was blacklisted by HUAC and wrote under different pseudonyms for years after.

This piece appeared in a slightly different form in Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The Great Escape (1963)   2 comments

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Throw a bunch of American, British, and Commonwealth Air Force officers into a German prisoner of war camp and what do you get?  You get hundreds of guys who want to get back to fighting and family and home.  THE GREAT ESCAPE, based on the true story of a major British escape from a German prisoner of war camp serves as a kind of survey course on that escape.  Yes, it’s a glossed-over version of events, but it’s such a terrific watch, you don’t really care.

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“Ya vas lyublyu.”

The all-star cast of American and British actors get a chance to fight the good fight while looking cool.  Part World War II movie/part drama/part procedural, THE GREAT ESCAPE shows us the steps leading up to the break-out along with the escape itself and its aftermath.

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Left: Richard Attenborough as Big X outlines his escape plan.
Right: the real Big X, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, Royal Air Force

We watch as the men survey the camp, dig the tunnels, and gather tools, clothes, and identity papers for their time on the lam.  Big X (Richard Attenborough), the leader of the escape committee, assigns James Garner to scrounge materials.  He has Steve McQueen go over the wall and get caught purposely so he can map the countryside.  He gets engineers and manufacturers David McCallum and James Coburn to design the tunnels and pumps to keep the men safe while digging.

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“Enough hot air for you, Roger.”

He asks Donald Pleasence (a P.O.W. in Germany during the war), and his crew to forge permits and train tickets.

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Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence) uses art class as a cover for his forgers.

He puts Charles Bronson and John Leyton in charge of the tunnels and has Gordon Jackson drill the men on procedure and the German language so they don’t get tripped up by the locals.  It’s a fascinating process that allows us to meet each character and get to know him.  Director, John Sturges captures the many moods of these men.  The funny ruses the men arrange to fool their captors along with their anxiety about being locked up all come across well.

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“You’re twenty feet short.”

Sturges is not a flamboyant or arty director, but he is able to move from a moonshine-fueled July 4th celebration to a poignant act of desperation seamlessly.  The classic Elmer Bernstein score doesn’t hurt.  Like John Williams, Bernstein can express lightness and frivolity, tense action, and heartbreaking sadness all within the same musical passage.

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From high to low in moments.

Paul Brickhill, an Australian prisoner at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, now part of Poland, where the real escape took place, wrote the book based on his own experience.

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Australian author and fighter pilot, Paul Brickhill

The screenplay by W.R. Burnett and James Clavell, also a P.O.W. in WWII, is economical and sharp.  We like these men.  We’re elated when it looks like some will make it, and heartbroken when we realize many won’t.  It’s an entertaining film with heart.  Oh yes, Steve McQueen jumps a motorcycle over a barbed-wire fence.

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You wish you were this cool.

In the film, Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald), the Senior British Officer, listens to the Kommandant (Hannes Messemer, a German P.O.W. in a Russian camp in WWII), as he warns the SBO about attempting to escape.  He replies, “Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.  If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

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“Englander?”

According to Paul Brickhill, five million Germans spent time (often weeks) looking for the seventy-six escaped prisoners.  They eventually recaptured seventy-three.  Of those, the Gestapo executed fifty.  While the number of Germans searching for the men may be an exaggeration, that’s still a whole lot of troops NOT out bombing London.  Take that, Hitler!

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Harry, the tunnel 76 men used to escape Stalag Luft III.

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Dedicated to the fifty.

After the war, the Royal Air Force Police investigative branch launched an investigation into the execution of the fifty escaped officers.  As a result, the allies hanged or imprisoned many of those responsible for the murders.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)   2 comments

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A lone, black candle burns against a black background as we join a séance in progress.  The camera pans over the anxious faces of the circle of believers.  A soft, reassuring voice breaks the silence.  The medium, Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) soothes the unruly spirits.

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“I hear dead people.”

After the séance, the faithful step outside, blinking at the daylight and we meet the players.  Myra and her husband, Billy switch on the lights to reveal a room full of overstuffed chairs and bric-a-brac.  Shabby and overdone, it looks as if it’s been stuck in time for fifty years.  As dominant, unbalanced Myra goes on and on about her ‘gift’ we see the weak-willed Billy.  He listens to her quiet ramblings with the resignation of a beaten man.  As the two discuss their history, Myra belittles Billy, not coarsely, but softly and gently with a sweet lilt in her pretty voice.  Amid the ‘yes dears’ and ‘you’re probably rights’, we see that Billy kow-tows to Myra, but she’s dependent on him as well.  Constantly seeking reassurance, Myra makes Billy tell her over and over that he needs her and loves her.

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“Tell me you love me, Billy!”
“Of course, dear.”

These two quiet, middle-aged people have a plan.  You see, for years Myra has held her weekly spiritual meetings for pitiful pay and even less recognition.  She craves attention and the means to pull herself out of her drab environment.  They plan to commit a crime.  Myra will use her psychic powers to solve it thus cementing her reputation as a medium and gaining them some spending money.  It’s clear that Myra’s plan doesn’t sit well with Billy and he tries weakly to talk her out of it.  Myra can’t be moved and the story begins.

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“Does this rag smell like chloroform?”

Their detailed scheme is set in motion as Billy goes out and Myra dispenses instructions from home.  Even after the first part of the crime goes off without a hitch, Billy has reservations and the strain of it shows on his face.  As the pair dive deeper into their twisted conspiracy, it’s clear that the plot, their marriage, and her sanity rests on a house of cards doomed to collapse.

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“Do you smell toast?”

Bryan Forbes (THE STEPFORD WIVES) directs SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON subtly with a slow, but deliberate pace that gives Stanley and Attenborough room to show off their prodigious talents.  The dialogue sounds natural and the two experienced character actors paint us a picture of an immature, possibly mad woman and the compliant, dependent man who indulges her.  The duo work in shades of gray allowing Myra and Billy to experience a range of emotions and pull us into their strangely touching relationship.  Stanley and Attenborough are all restraint and give beautifully nuanced performances.  Both were nominated by the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).  Attenborough won.  The Academy nominated Stanley and she won both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics’ Circle best actress awards.  Forbes was also nominated for a BAFTA award for his screenplay based on Mark McShane’s novel.

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“Did they spell our names right?”

Gerry Turpin’s cinematography was also BAFTA nominated and deservedly so.  The gorgeously shot black and white film has a look that screams 1960s Britain.  Turpin contrasts the bleak English countryside and the dull interior of the couples’ home with the clean, modern home of the rich victims of their heinous crime.  Forbes and Turpin chose beautiful tableaux to film and spend time there.  There are no jump cuts.  The suspense comes from the framing of the story and the understated performances of the two leads and the veteran actors like Patrick Magee, Mark Eden, Nanette Newman, and Gerald Sim working with them.

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This house; you have to watch it every minute.  Wait, wrong movie.

The music and sound effects heighten the suspense as well.  Much of the film has no music which accentuates the suffocating stillness of the Savage home.  The sounds of nature coupled with John Barry’s (Yes, THAT John Barry!) spare score add to the quirky eeriness of this dark tale.

I recommend SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON.  It’s a chilling character study that makes me want to see every British film of this era.

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“Yes, I know I Want to Hold Your Hand is number one.  Yes, I know it’s a séance.  You say that every time.  Stop giggling.”

 

Jurassic Park (1993)   9 comments

title

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Goldblumathon3

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/

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