Yet another modish Hollywood comedy caper which employs a convoluted plot to escalate confusion. Hamburg-based bank security chief Warren Beatty observes various felons stashing their ill-gotten gains in adjoining safe deposit boxes, and hooks up with Goldie Hawn, a hooker who “does” for all said villains, to obtain the keys to the boxes and rip off a million, er, dollars, safe in the knowledge that the police are unlikely to be alerted by the hapless heistees. The crims, natch, have other ideas, and a delirious half hour pan-Germanic chase results, with the criminals trying to steal back the stolen money Beatty stole from them. Cynics would argue that’s not all Beatty stole, as a very similar plot underpins archly-shot British eccentric caper Perfect Friday from a year previously.
Adapted from Ludovic Kennedy’s splendid book and featuring Sir Lord Richard of Attenborough’s best performance. The true story of a man – played by John Hurt – wrongly accused of murdering his wife and his landlord John Christie, portrayed by Attenborough with blood curdling coolness – who actually did, this is another film that has the ability to both horrify the viewer and make them seethe with fury over the official injustice of it all (cf The Hill). We often find this sort of film far more terrifying than what is usually thought of as horror simply because it is all so real and because we know, of course, that it is all true. Hurt’s character is – and was – executed and it was many years before Christie’s guilt became known. Hurt is superb, conveying the simple-mindedness of his subject brilliantly and his wide-eyed exasperation at what is happening to him is heartbreaking but Attenborough is the dead centre of the film, so chilling that you can’t take your eyes off him, as much as you want to.
TV CREAM SAYS: EVEN MORE TERRIFYING - ATTERS IS THE DEAD SPIT OF MARK LAWSON. BRRRRR.
Post-Jaws and Close Encounters, Steven Spielberg emerged fresh from having ‘Wunderkind’ installed as a middle name to tackle a genre for which he’d hitherto exhibited little affinity – the ensemble slapstick comedy. Thus an all-star knockabout romp amid the onset of post-Pearl Harbor war hysteria was dragged kicking and screaming – literally screaming – into being. Spielberg equated ‘loud’ with ‘funny’, and strung endless set-pieces (Ferris wheel collapsing, tank running amok in paint factory) together with film-buffy in-jokes (slightly smug parodies of Dr Strangelove and Jaws). Punters took one look at this queasy blend of Tora! Tora! Tora! and Animal House and kept well out of it. Costing a whopping $35 million, it nevertheless managed to claw its way back into profit some time during the 1990s. Still things could have been worse – at one point during production, according to Spielberg, he considered reworking the whole thing as a musical.
TV CREAM SAYS: CAST NOT THE ONLY ONES SCREAMING THROUGH THE END CREDITS
“Gooooot a whale of a tale to tell you lads, a whale of a tale or two-oo…” Kirk ‘snails’ Douglas steals the show – just – against heavy opposition from James Mason, Paul Lukas and Herbert Lom in this Disney version of Verne’s classic from the days when the words ‘Disney version’ meant something quite good and weren’t a prelude to nausea. So much to see here; the attack on the ships, the dinner, the penal colony, the giant squid, Ocalina Fagiolina…the list goes on.
TV CREAM SAYS: EAT YOUR PUDDING!
Fresh from his yak-toting cameo in Head, Frank Zappa made this gorggy orgy of groupies, frogs and horses, and suddenly the Monkees film looks like Chariots of Fire in comparison. Filming at Pinewood (next door to 2001) in little over a week, Zappa used video cameras to cut costs and flood every frame with multiple Chromakeyed images, queasy colour saturations and restless fuzziness in general, in what starts out as a satire on a typical rock tour of America but quickly descends into a headache-inducing kaleidoscope soup. Keith Moon plays a nun. Ringo Starr plays Zappa. Ringo’s chauffeur stands in for Wilfrid Brambell.
TV CREAM SAYS: A GRAND TIME IS HAD BY ALL
Fankie and Deano pal about down Galveston way, setting up a riverboat casino and copping off with Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg into the bargain. Comedy westerns are, for some reason, very hard to get right. Perhaps because, out in the desert, a holiday atmosphere takes over and people tend to think, after they’ve got all dressed up and are lobbing their six-shooters about at The American Adventure, the on-set laughs will translate effortlessly to the screen, with no actual funny business necessary, and if it sags we can always speed up bits of film of everyone running about, can’t we? And this is pretty much what we find here. The two stars are, as ever, out to have a laugh first and make a film second. In the past they’ve gotten away with this, but not with pesky meddling Serious Director Robert Aldrich breathing down their necks. Friction ensues. Charles Bronson does various cartoony bits of black hat business. The Three Stooges, always mentioned in conjunction with this film, actually only turn up for slightly longer than they do in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, but by then the damage is done. After two hours of this, even the most patient Rat Pack Fan will be eyeing the exit, even envying Charlie’s comedy death, impaled on the paddle wheel of the casino.
TV CREAM SAYS: EKBERG AND ANDRESS BOTH HAD TO STRIP OFF IN SCREEN TESTS, BUT NOT IN THE FINAL FILM. DINOOOOO!
War – or rather anti-war – propaganda from Powell (this time with Pressburger) and a story of a U-Boat landing in Canada whose crew struggle to reach then-neutral America. This was voted for – amongst others – by director Terry Ryan, who told us a nice story about Powell. It seems that Terry was despatched from his film school to collect Powell by car from the station he was to arrive at. This he did but on the way back Powell insisted they stop at a bookshop. When they arrived Powell strode in and looked to find his autobiography which had been recently published. At first alarmed by this flash of ego Terry then recalls how the great man picked each copy out, signed it and returned it to the shelf, leaving still unannounced. We think that’s great.
TV CREAM SAYS: WE'RE NOT ASKING FOR THOSE PANTS. WE'RE JUST TAKING THEM
Of course, the bonus about “doing” a historical epic about the Boxer rebellion is that practically no-one will question the facts because practically no-one has the faintest idea what it was all about, including us. We know it wasn’t a fracas at a dog’s home but that’s about the size of our knowledge on the subject. Still, it’s worth watching cos David Niven and Dame Flora ‘to name but three’ Robson are in it.
TV CREAM SAYS: FILMED ENTIRELY IN AN AUTHENTIC TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY PEKING BUILT IN THE MIDDLE OF SPAIN
A celebration of London and friendship gets off to a slow, stiff-upper-lipped start in this early eighties screen adaptation of Helene Hanff’s novel of the same name. This is a true story of an enduring relationship between book-hungry single New York woman Hanff (Anne Bancroft) and a shopkeeper who presides over Marks & Co in Charing Cross Road (Anthony Hopkins as a reticent F.P. Doel). As their friendship develops, Doel and later his family and staff, come to rely on the generous New Yorker who sends them food supplies during the forties ration era.
Hanff’s acerbic wit and lack of deference for popular English editing is a breath of fresh air to Doel who finds himself going out of his way to procure her increasing demands for rare editions of books she semi-scurrilously finds impossible to locate in New York. Lots of nice cross-referencing of staid wordless marital dinners between Hopkins and wife Nora (Judi Dench) with Bancroft’s friendly and lively lunches in Manhattan delis serve to delineate their lives. Bancroft sends food parcels to the staff at Marks & Co where the reception to such indulgence is one of excitement except with one employee’s elderly aunt who screws her nose up at the idea of air mail meat. Bancroft’s smitten with her Brief Encounter (she’s seen cooing over the film) mental picture of England and Marks & Co are inadvertently happy to indulge her. (‘They say you see the London you want to see.’)
Time rattles on. The forties bloom into the fifties and then dive full throttle into the sixties (Bancroft is watching herself on the news being lifted and bundled into a van at a Civil rights protest just before she learns of Doel’s death). She never did make it over during his lifetime (the clue is there in the first scene as she edges gingerly into a long-deserted bookshop) but the protracted nature of their correspondence touches a handful of lives in a meaningful way and you ‘re left contemplating that this friendship endured perhaps because of the remoteness, and in any case was no less profound through mutual invisibility.
TV CREAM SAYS: FILM RIGHTS TO THE BOOK GIVEN TO BANCROFT AS A PRESENT FROM HUSBAND MEL BROOKS. AW!
Vincent Price is a disfigured doctor, out to off the surgeons who bungled his late wife’s operation in assorted arch manners based on the nine biblical plagues. But Phibesie’s no ordinary serial killer evil genius disfigured vengeful mastermind recluse. For a start, he’s supposedly spent years in hiding devising this elaborate revenge plan, but he’s somehow found time to build a giant underground Art Deco dancehall complete with Wurlitzer and robot orchestra. Second, the doctors he and the delightful Vulnavia off thoroughly deserve their fates (especially the blood-drained Terry-Thomas). Here’s that rare cinematic creature: an arch-villain who gains the audience’s sympathy, and does it with bags of style.
Price, though he never really “acts” on camera, is never less than magnificent too, peeling off his rubber face, vouchsafing cod-antiquated prophecies (“Nine eternities in doom!”) through a gramophone to a picture of Caroline Munro (Vinny reportedly spent most of the shooting time laughing his rubberised head off during these passages, and not in a demonic, echoey way), and drinking pureed Brussels sprouts through the back of his head.
If Vincent’s perfect despite the mask, the rest of the cast are pretty damn ace, too. Top of the tree is certainly Peter Jeffrey’s cantankerous-but-hapless Inspector Trout. In fact, couple this performance with his combative Detective Dexter in the magnificent Thriller episode Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, and we have to say we’re having a hard time thinking of a better screen copper right now. Can you? Answers on a head-crushing frog mask, please.
Anyway. Aside from T-T, the doctors include Joseph Cotten, James Onedin and the husband from also-ran Thriller episode The Next Victim, plus there’s Hugh Griffith, James Grout and Aubrey Woods turning in nice little cameos. Robert Fuest is the perfect director for the madcap macabre meanderings – as Price himself said, “He’s all over the place, like an unmade bed.” Norman Warwick, who’s photographed everything from John Mills Land Rover drama Ice Cold in Alex to Cliff Richard hovercraft musical Take Me High, and Brian ‘Man Who Fell to Earth‘ Eatwell collaborate with the Avengers supremo to make the whole thing look incredible, from the lavish lair to the sober gentleman’s club in which our favourite scene, the unscrewing of one unfortunate medic from the wall by Jeffrey and his men, takes place. A chorus of The Dark Town Strutters’ Ball in their honour, Frank Sidebottom-headed clockwork maestro, please!
TV CREAM SAYS: THEY DIDN'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THIS ANYMORE EVEN BACK THEN.
This is hardly the epitome of Swinging Britain, based as it is on a play from 1923. Carnaby Street military jacket purchasers needn’t worry, though. They updated it – to the thirties. Milo O’Shea is Zero, a put-upon accountant in a big, grey company who trudges between tedious days adding figures with Billie Whitelaw and lonely nights lusting after call-girl Carol Cleveland while under the thumb of waspish wife Phyllis Diller. Learning he’s to be replaced by a computer, he goes berserk, kills his boss, is arrested and executed, and arrives in a fairground-like heaven, only to be told he’s got to go back to Earth and start adding away once more. Big Things about the Human Condition are assumed said. The film opens and closes in short order.
TV CREAM SAYS: SEE ALSO WONDERWALL
The film of the book of the war! Struggling manfully to match the genius of the book this doesn’t quite make it and despite his best efforts Jim Dale as Spike Milligan comes across as a bit of a smart arse (although it does fair a little better than Spike’s own readings of the book which came across even worse). There’s also a bit too much musing on the futility of the war and not enough chasing escaped pigs around old folks homes for our liking. Still, Spike himself and Pat Coombs as his mental parents Leo and Kitty are great and Arthur Lowe as moronic platoon commander Leather Suitcase is splendid, too. Bill ‘Oh, no!’ Maynard, Tony ‘git’ Booth, Bob Todd and Geoffrey Hughes make up the ranks. “Silence when you speak to an officer!”
TV CREAM SAYS: A CRIMINAL ABSENCE OF PIGS AND BOTTLED QUINCES. BLESS. THEY TRIED THEIR BEST.
Well, we all know about the on-set woes that dogged this baroque Gilliam escapade – language problems and heat exhaustion in Rome, spiralling set budgets, Sean Connery quitting his King of the Moon duties as ‘windows’ came and went – but Putters had to put up with neck-deep shite to even help get it off the ground, thanks to an interminable legal wrangle with one Allan Buckhantz, representing the company that owned the rights to the wartime German film Munchhausen (and, he claimed, the entire West German government), who fired off endless letters, up to seventeen pages in length, to Columbia to stop them making their version, which on the surface looked like threatening legal documents but turned out to be mostly written like this – ‘NOW COME ON…! GET OFF IT, *PUTTNAM!* The fact(s) is (are): COLUMBIA PICTURES… has been *deceptive, evasive, circumventive*, etc., thus maybe cunning – from Columbia’s point of view – but not very smart I say… please *Mr Puttnam*… DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH! If anything, THE JOKE IS ON YOU… *NOT ME!*’ Eventually, through a mixture of exhaustion and finally realising the original Munchausen stories were clearly public domain and had been for centuries, he relented. But as net losses on the film mounted up to 24 million dollars (higher than the film’s original budget) Puttnam’s successors might have been forgiven for wishing he’d put a bit more *EFFORT!* into things. They contented themselves with burying the (rather good) film via a singularly shite distribution policy.
TV CREAM SAYS: ER, YEAH, THAT'LL TEACH 'EM.
Barry Humphries can be an amazingly subtle comedian when he feels like it. Not so with this creation, an endless fusillade of ‘Pommie poofter’ jokes and innovative but ultimately wearying Ocker euphemisms for lager, piss and vomit, ham-fistedly shackled to the sort of crumpet-seeking sub-plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a minor Carry On. Barry Crocker, later to warble the Neighbours theme, is the Akubra hat-toting bludger, seeking fame and fortune in London with his Auntie Edna (Humphries) in tow. Cameos from Peter Cook, Spike Milligan and Joan Bakewell come and go in perfunctory manner, though Dennis Price’s pervy Home Counties schoolboy fetishist is memorable. Humphries-ims occasionally shine through the coarseness – Barry advertising ‘High Camp Cigalettes (sic)’, the band Raspberry Ripple and the Y-Fronts, the headline ‘Leprosy panic sweeps Birmingham’, etc. What’s more interesting is the way director Bruce Beresford ladles on that slightly off-kilter, slightly threadbare style that you can see, to varying degrees, in all manner of Antipodean cinema from this through Mad Max and up to Peter Jackson’s pre-Rings efforts. It’s hard to define, but the basic elements are: lots of wide-angle close-ups of faces, often made all the more jarring when they’re not being employed for any dramatic effect at all; one- and two-person shots frequently filmed ‘straight on’, with the characters seemingly pressed against the wall; the AFC money often appearing to stretch to a lighting rig that must number two in total, giving a kind of pasty flat look, with loads of too-dense shadows; and loads of showy low angles and long zooms, as if to try and make up for the previous points. Add to that the general shapelessness of the film as a whole (just what was that desert dream sequence all about, exactly?) and you have a kind of cheerily ramshackle quality to Aussie film proceedings that’s unapologetically gung ho in its sheer lairy, uneven, government-funded oddness. The sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974), moved to Paris, where evil Transylvanians, under the aegis of a marvellously bloodless Donald Pleasence, kidnap Edna, assuming her to be the Queen, and the cameo roll call features John Le Mesurier, Roy Kinnear, Clive James and Edna-ennobling Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHY DOES BOTTOM-DENOMINATOR OCKER HUMOUR WORK WHEREAS LOWBROW US 'HUMOR' DOESN'T? PERHAPS 'COS THEY SPELL IT PROPERLY
With Robin Askwith’s red-arsed Confessions ruling cinemas nationwide for no readily explained reason, sleaze kingpin Stanley Long got onto the cinematic equivalent of a Banda duplicator to produce the short-lived Adventures series. Adventures Of A Taxi Driver, set Barry ‘Mind Your Language’ Evans up as the hapless hero, but keeping the coarser Long tone and trademarks – the film starts with a mockumentary montage of location footage as a voiceover pays sarcastic tribute to the Great London Cabbie, before we’re launched into the Adventures proper with a truly unpleasant “gag” involving a pet snake. Evans was replaced by Christopher Neil for the follow- ups …private Eye and …plumber’s Mate (which rather sneakily nicked its premise of the never-made fifth Confessions film). They’re all much of a muchness really, although two points stand out. They truly are the seediest-looking films you’ll ever see, mainly because they’re not trying for it – Evans’ bedsit is surely the grottiest ever seen in the cinema, but you can bet it was only chosen because it belonged to a cast or crew member. The other strange thing is the sheer unabashed tokenism of the cameos. Willie Rushton spends many a scene talking to other characters on a telephone in a box-room, having clearly been bussed in for the day, put in a couple of hours, collected his cheque, and gone home. …Plumber’s Mate featured Stephen ‘Blakey’ Lewis and Elaine Paige. Jon P’Twee, playing a bent copper who absconds to Rio (a location signified by having P’Twee in his pants on a sunlounger surrounded by rubber plants), provides a delightful punchline by having his penis shredded by a toppling electric fan. Best of all, Shaw Taylor’s cameo in …Private Eye consists of him merely walking up to the camera and giving the lens a quizzical mugging stare, thus allowing the audience to go “It’s Shaw Taylor!”
TV CREAM SAYS: TRULY, THIS WAS CINEMA WITHOUT PRETENSION, OR INDEED AMBITION, OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER
Black, black, black is the colour of this comedy from Scorsese – his only entry in the list, and one from his post-King of Comedy so-called “fallow” period – about a geek and his night on the town. Griffin Dunne is the poor schnook at the centre of things but with Roseanna Arquette, Cheech Marin and the brilliant Terri Garr involved there’s plenty more to look at. Never mind the likes of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Goodfellas or any of that bobbins – it’s a testament to Scorsese’s versatility that he still managed to gain an entry with this, even if he does have to enlist the help of Bronson ‘Balki’ Pinchot and ex-Sid Vicious bodyguard Rockets Redglare to secure it. He will be pleased!
TV CREAM SAYS: 'SURRENDER DOROTHY!'
Americo-Brito-Italian comedy by Neil Simon, wherein Peter Sellers, yet again as a criminal plotting an elaborate robbery, gets to try out endless disguises, mainly as a new-wave film director (the film itself was directed by Vittorio ‘Bicycle Thieves’ Di Sica) pretending to shoot his masterpiece, which provides cover for his gold-smuggling operation. Victor Mature steps in for a bit of hair-dyed self-parody as an ageing Hollywood star, and Britt Ekland gets to shout at Sellers. The theme this time is by Bacharach and David, performed by The Hollies, with Sellers joining in for bits of spoken word in-character drollery (“Me is a thief!”) Uniquely, it even manages to turn its lack of a cohesive plot into a virtue, by dint of a bizarre, throwaway ending gag – “My God! The wrong man has escaped!”
TV CREAM SAYS: TIE HIM ABOUT WITH CHAINS AND LOCKS!
During the shooting for this, Jacqueline Bisset used to spend some time gathering herself before filming to get her character right. This, however, was time that Dean Martin could have been on the golf course. “Just do the lines, honey,” he said, “we’re not going to win Oscars for this.” Right again, Dino, but it’s not that bad really, though it’s a bit lengthy. Life and love in, on and around an airport (natch) constitutes the plot for this – oh, and a bomb – and presented George Kennedy with probably his only chance of being a romantic lead: at least, they never let him do it again. Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg and Barry Nelson help make up the numbers.
TV CREAM SAYS: WE’VE STILL TO TRACK DOWN THE DISASTER IN THIS ‘DISASTER MOVIE’ ALTHOUGH IT MAY WELL BE GEORGE KENNEDY.
The one with Jack Lemmon, clearly raising the money for that beach house in Malibu, though not a patch on Robert Wagner’s (not quite) finest hour, The Concorde: Airport ’79 which we love if only because there aren’t very many opportunities for British technical innovation to be highlighted in such dramatic fashion nowadays or that would have any resonance in America to the extent that someone would fashion a crappy film with a ludicrous premise around them. We don’t think that, for instance, HOTOL: An Air-Breathing Engine Too Far is in any danger of being greenlit in the forseeable future.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE - WHO'S ONLY DOING IT BECAUSE LEMMON IS. A MAN OF TASTE, THAT CHRIS.
Hurray! The most implausible of all the Airport films, and by Jove, that’s saying something. Yes, even more unlikely than George Kennedy as an attractive, suave, international airline pilot is the premise that a missile test goes horribly wrong and the sinister looking weapon – uncannily similar to the one described as an Exocet at the end of Superman III – spends a huge amount of time tearing around equally incongruous fluffy clouds after the titular supersonic airliner of yore. It’s all as a result of the dastardly shenanigans of arms dealer Robert Wagner who doesn’t even have the decency to be blown up by his own missile but instead rolls up the windows of his limousine to do the decent thing, which may or not have been subsequently cleaned up and then hired out to hen nights in provincial cities, while the predictably not-quite stellar cast undo their bras in the fuselage above. We remember the premiere of this as a Big Film on a Saturday night in the early ’80s, as part of ITV’s Big Season of Films we think we’re right in saying, and it was quite an event but really only because it had a Concorde in it which made of it immediate interest to just about everyone since these were still the days when the default setting for everyone’s ‘holiday of a lifetime’ if they’d win the pools was to take the QE2 to New York then fly back on Concorde.