Posts Tagged ‘movies’

55 plus 19: Well.

Posted: 5 September 2019 in 55 plus, movies, television
Tags: , , ,

Most nights, before I head bedwards, I’ll stream MSNBC for a bit before bed.

Steve Kornacki – one of my favourite US commentators – was subbing for Chris Matthews last night on his show and attempted to explain to his audience what had been occurring in the UK yesterday.

He, and his guest, made a fairly good fist of it, but ultimately you can’t explain the unexplainable, or make sense of the inexplainable, any more than the current government, or its immediate predecessor, could or can make the impossible… well, possible.

To any US readers, confused by what’s going on in UK Parliament: if you think it’s merely maybe because you don’t understand British politics that you have no idea what the hell’s going on or what the hell’s going to happen…

…then let me earnestly assure you we Brits haven’t a clue what the hell’s going on, or what the hell’s going to happen, either.

So, rather than waffle on some more about it, which will only puzzle you, and infuriate me, let me do what I said I was going to do yesterday, but didn’t: talk about something else.

Also last night, Robin Ince commented that there was a David Jannsen movie on tv: Nowhere To Run. I’ve seen it before, and it’s an ok movie, so wasn’t in any hurry to rewatch it, but it did occur to me that Jannsen is one of the few actors that I’ve never seen a bad performance by him.

Even when he appeared in some frankly ropey stuff, some tv episodes which were broadcast to fill the gap in the series, or the occasional movie or tv miniseries that either he made for the money, or just wasn’t up to much, he was not only usually the best thing in it, but sometimes the only good actor in it.

I’m reminded of the frankly awful adaption of Irving Wallace’s novel The Word.

Now I liked, and like, Wallace as a writer. He wrote huge novels that I could lose myself in, and though a couple of the laters ones were a bit formulaic, he wrote page turners; at no point did I not want to know what happened next.

Indeed, as I’ve mentioned before, one of his earlier novels is my favourite ever novel: The Man, about a black man who becomes, through a series of catastrophic events, President of the United States… at the height of the civil rights movement.

But adaptations have rarely managed to capture the tension, the characters or the main, unmessed with, plot.

And the tv miniseries of The Word – a fifth gospel, allegedly written by the brother of Jesus, is discovered; Jannsen plays the PR guy they hire for the promotional release – is one that… isn’t that good.

There are a couple of actors in it who do their job perfectly competently. There are a few who are, frankly, phoning it in.

And then there are David Jannsen and Ron Moody, who elevate every scene they’re in with class, style and just bloody good acting. Yah, Moody’s another one who, whether he’s playing serious, light comedy, or merely a role whose entire brief seemed to be ‘chewing-the-furniture’, always gave his best, and it always showed.

There are precious few actors who can do that every time, elevate every scene, and utterly draw you in to their character.

David Jannsen died in 1980, and it’s a damn pity he wasn’t around to grace more entertainment.

And now, I’m kind of sad that I didn’t make the effort to rewatch Nowhere To Run last night.

Something else tomorrow. Possibly back to politics.. Possibly, not..

(Be grateful; I’m getting a haircut tomorrow; it could have been something about that…)

OK, on the past few weeks, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, I’ll happily rewatch.

But given how much audio I listen to, it’s kind of surprising to me that I’ve not mentioned that at any point… No, not albums; I rarely listen to a whole album. Very occasionally, but only very occasionally.

If I listen to music, odds are it’s my favourite songs from an artist, or a soundtrack if I’m listening to an album.

The stuff on repeat that I listen to is often adaptations of books and plays. I’ve listened to the Radio 4 version of Lord Of The Rings so many times… much my favourite, and the Radio 4 versions of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy are not necessarily my favourite versions, but damn, they’re both very good.

Or podcasts. (What the BBC for the longest time insisted on calling ‘downloads’, which makes sense since their podcasts are usually downloadable versions of radio shows that have been previously broadcast on the network)

Note: these aren’t the podcasts I listen to when a new episode is released. There are some I listen to regularly, whenever new episodes are released, and I’ll talk about them next week.

The list below contains the podcasts I’ll save once listened to, and then I’ll listen to them again, on another occcasion. And again. And again.

And I realised earlier this week that I’ve got at least ten.

So why not?

Oh, by the way, the titles and images are linked to the Apple podcasts. Obviously other podcast apps and stores are available. But I trust that if you’ve read so far, you know how to find podcasts.…

OK then. In no particular order:



When I first got online, back in the distant and now ancient times of the mid-1990s, I found a home on CompuServe. And once there, I learned about trolls. All of the above is true, and entirely useless these days since the word meant something different back then. A troll wasn’t in my experiences back then someone who disparaged a single person, nor someone who posted obscene messages about someone, nor someone who had a political point – legitimate or otherwise – to make. They were shit-stirrers, people who came into the Jewish Forum to proselytise, who went into the Police Forums to claim all police were bastards, who went into comics forums to claim all comics people were immature babies… And as a general rule of thumb, although there were many of them, they weren’t ‘a group’, with a single aim, other than to disrupt. There were plenty of words to use for people who did post racism and homophobia and who did target individuals, but it wasn’t ‘troll’. But as I say, that was in the dim and distant past. Trolls these days seek out people of an opposing view and shit on them; whether it’s by posting racism/antisemitism, or just because they don’t like a celebrity’s political position, or religion, or that they’re gay, or trans.

Tracy Ann Oberman is an actress. (She was in Eastenders, and Doctor Who, and Friday Night Dinner, and plenty of other things, but if you’re reading this, you’ll probably recognise her from those.) She’s Jewish, and a few years ago, the trolls, the antisemites took objection to her saying ‘enough. I will not put up with this any more’. She’s got experience of trolls, and this podcast – about 40 minutes per episode – is her interviewing others who’ve been trolled. How do they deal with it? What do they think of their trolls? Is there any commonality? Is there anything to learn from others’ experiences? Have you ever trolled yourself? And is it better to block, or mute. And why? They’re always fascinating discussions – yeah, discussions more than interviews, to be fair. In the main because I find myself pondering the same questions, partyciley the ‘block or mute?’ one. My own answer for that is simple: whichever I think will piss off the other person more. Tracy Ann talks to Luciana Berger and Gary Liniker in one episode and their completely different ways of handling it are fascinating to listen to. (Liniker deliberately blocks on the ground that ‘you no longer deserve to read my feed. I want you to know that you’ve been blocked. Berger on the other hand mutes, so they waste their time unknowingly whingeing into the ether…) Other guests include Frances Barber, David Baddiel journalist Oz Katerji, and Al Murray.

The History of Rome

I don’t know when I first learned about Rome. Probably at school, when I learned about the emperors. Then, later, I discovered the tv series (and bought the book) of I, CLAVDIVS. And was fascinated but no more. Then, a few years ago, someone recommended this podcast to me. And I was hooked. 180 or so short-ish episodes, it starts out at about 15 minutes per episode but end up at about half an hour per show. It commences with the legend of the founding of Rome, and through episode after episode tells you the legend, what bits are true, or true-ish anyway, and what’s just pure fiction. You’re 50 episodes through it before we even get to Augustus, and not a minute has been wasted. Mike Duncan is an engaging presenter, sticks to what’s known, or what’s come down through history anyway, and only occasionally editorialises. And it’s because they’re so occasional that when they come, he makes them matter. His views on the ‘wicked stepmother’ trope attached to Livia are worth listening to. As is his that story about “That story about this general? That may sound familiar? Yeah, it didn’t happen… instead the noble and heroic feats of Lucius Liminus that took place 300 years earlier were attached to this fella because a) Rome needed a hero and b) hardly anyone remembered Liminus,..”) The podcast is educational, informative and entertaining. I listen to it at least once every couple of years.

Sport and the British

I’m not a sporty person. Not only do I not take part in sport, nor do I watch much sport. I really don’t like it that much at all. (And yes, before you ask, it’s a lot to do with how I encountered it at school. Shudder.) So why do I love this podcast – 30 episodes of about 13 minutes each – that Clare Balding did for the BBC in 2012 preparing for the London Olympics? Because they play a glorious trick on the listener. It may be called Sport and the British, but there’s precious little actual… y’know, sport occurring in it. There’s the occasional sound effect, sure. But in the main, it’s a history podcast, that happens about be about the history of sport. And it’s fantastic. Covering dozens of sports, and sporting fixtures, it shows how sports started, how they developed, why they developed in the way they did, introducing the listener to names they might have faint memories of, and explaining why that’s so. And covering subjects such as the splits between professional and amateur, between men and women, between sports created for adults and sports that developed from schools. And throughout, where the British influenced, where British influence remains, and where it no longer does. The perfect length for a series like this, I recommend it to everyone, sports lover or no.

50 Things That Made The Modern Economy

I mentioned Mike Duncan as an engaging host. And he is, but he’s an aloof statue compared to Tim Harford, The Financial Times‘ Undercover Economist. Presenter of Radio 4s More Of Less, about the use and misuse of numbers. This podcast is fairly self-explanatory. Harford gives a potted history of things that affect (more than ‘made’, although it’s a moot point often) the modern economy. Sometimes the affect is obvious – the barcode, banking, paper money, the contraceptive pill, tax havens; sometimes the item chosen is a bit ‘huh?’ But Harford takes you through it step by step until you realise the item – the Haber-Bosch process, the shipping container, the disposable razor, pornographers, the spreadsheet – has very bit as much a consequence on the modern economy as… well, as the humble brick or double- entry bookkeeping. It’s entertaining, informative and you learn a shed load of new information every 12 minute episode. Thoroughly recommended. (We’re on season 2, right now, 50 more things, and it’s every bit as good as season 1.)

The Reith Lectures Archive

The Reith Lectures started in 1948, and were commissioned by the BBCto mark the contribution made by Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director-general. Every year, the BBC invite a leading figure to deliver a series of four or five lectures on the radio. And they’re glorious. My personal favourites, which I’ve listened to so many times are the 2003 lectures by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran about The Emerging Mind, but even in the past few years, you’ve had Grayson Perry on Playing To The Gallery, Stephen Hawking on Do Black Holes Have No Hair, and this year’s by Jonathan Sumpter on Law and the Decline of Politics were among the best I’ve heard. Each lecture’s about half an hour, and there’s often a Q&A afterwards, which is always interesting. My favourite columnists, my favourite pundits, are the ones who make me think, whether or not I agree with them. These lectures always make me think. Download and enlighten yourself on stuff you’ve never thought of… you won’t regret it. 

Bag Man

Rachel Maddow is my favourite US presenter on US politics. A self-confessed policy wonk, her nightly tv show is fantastic… if you’re interested in US politics. And the same applies to her first podcast. It’s about a US Vice President caught up in a pay-for-play scandal; corruption. corruption at the highest level of US government… while the President is also caught up in obstruction of justice and Watergate. I’m a student of Watergate and yet I was completely unaware of most of what Maddow lays out in this seven part documentary about Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s first VP. The episodes – about 40 minutes each – are gripping, contain interviews with many of the people who were tracking down the corruption and set the scene superbly. Not a sentence is wasted. Maddow doesn’t treat it nor present it as a thriller, but with the material herein she could have. It was a wise decision not to do so. The mixture of matter of fact presentation contrasted with the shock felt by the investigators as they unconverted more and more… contrasted again by the White House – consumed with Watergate – having to deal with this as well? Beautifully laid, out superbly presented. A slice of recent-ish American history you didn’t know about, but really should know.

This, by the way, is the only podcast series in this list that I listened to, then immediately listened to the run again, to catch what I missed, or hadn’t realised how important something was, the first time.

David Baddiel Tries To Understand

I like David Baddiel. I like him on Twitter; I like his work, his writing. And he was very kind to me once when I needed some advice. That said he’s an idiot. He freely admits as much in this series of 15 minute episodes when he tries to understand… something. What? Well… Electricity, say. How it works. Why it doesn’t fall out of the the sockets. How it’s created, and how it gets from the generator station to his computer. Or ‘derivatives’. The financial instruments. What the hell are they? And when people buy them, how do they operate? Or Wifi. Or ‘the cloud’. Or The US Electoral system. Or Bitcoin. Or The Kardashians. What are they? Why do people care? Why should people know?

Either way, David tries to understand them. Some of the episodes are about things I know about. It’s a useful check for me, to know whether the subject of the episode – treated exactly the same as in others – is explained correctly. It is. Sometimes David does begin to understand. Sometimes he doesn’t. They’re fun to listen to, and you too might understand something you previously didn’t. Like TV broadcasting; how does the tv show get from the studio to your tv? Or crying? Why do we cry?

All the subject are suggested by people on Twitter. David sorts through them and then picks subjects that a) he doesn’t understand, b) he thinks the audience might not either. Then he is.. educated. And finally he explains it back to the person who asked, sometimes with more success than on other occasions.

The Mitch Benn Music Podcast

Not a surprise in the least, this one, is it? I’ve previously mentioned The Distraction Club. In part, Mitch and the others set it up because you don’t tend to see more than one musical comedy act on a comedy bill. It’s as if promoters think all musical comedy acts do the same material, have the same style, are the same. The Distraction Club is a comedy evening that puts the lie to those views. And this podcast does the same. Mitch puts out a request on Twitter: send me original comedy songs. Only two rules; you must own the rights to the song, and no filking, no ‘funny words to someone else’s tune’, a derivation of the first rule, to be fair. And then Mitch puts together a dozen of the best he’s been sent, links them, and puts out an episode. And it’s great. It’s funny, silly, smart as hell and you get to listen to comedy songs you won’t have heard before.

The Moral Maze

This is probably the closest I get to the original ‘one-offs’ that this series of posts started as. As there are episodes of those show that I can relisten to repeatedly, while others I listen to once, then never again. But the show itself is clever, and at least until relatively recently, provides as much light as heat into a moral discussion on everything from ‘should we trade with other countries, despite their human rights’ abuses’, ‘is religion more important than treating everyone with respect?’, ‘the right to offend vs the right not to be abused’, the morality of leadership’, ‘what IS the moral duty of MPs?’ And so much more. The moral arguments about abortion, the death penalty, is it moral to lie for the ‘right’ reasons? The morality of international aid, of equality, of taking a holiday… of the public sector. Of social housing, of the welfare state, of war.

Four panelists quiz four ‘expert witnesses’ on the morality of their positions.

It’s rarely anything other than fascinating. And often makes you ponder the morality of your own position.

Round Britain Quiz

There are three Radio 4 quizzes that share this podcast, and they’re broadcast consecutively. Brain of Britain, I’ll occasionally listen to when it’s broadcast but only occasionally. Counterpoint – a music quiz – I’ll even less occasionally listen to; it’s really not my thing. But Round Britain Quiz, I’ll listen to whenever it’s on, and I’ve saved previous series to listen to for pleasure. The questions are fiendish, the answers complicated, and the irritation of the contestants at themselves when they missed a clue, or just couldn’t find the right word, or couldn’t remember who wrote that, or sung. this, or acted in the other… Glorious.

Something different tomorrow. It’s Saturday so the last of the Saturday smiles. And it should be a good one as well…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

OK, on the past few Fridays, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies I’ll happily rewatch.

I’d planned on doing two more… on this Friday and next Friday… and then realised that I was rapidly running out of days to do it if I want to finish on “55 minus 1” next Friday. Especially since, if plans go to… well, go to plan… I’ll be in Edinburgh on Friday 16th, and no doubt I’ll use that entry to write about that, and maybe some thoughts on blogging in general.

Yeah, now we’re into the final ten, that earlier schedule seems… less than ideal.

But I enjoyed doing them, far more than I expected to, so somehow I’m going to fit three more sets of ‘this is what I like, and recommend’ into the run: one today on slightly – but only slightly ‘less old’ movies I’ll happily rewatch; one on podcasts I listen to again and again; and – since I just thought about podcasts and I don’t think I’ve written about them before, one on the podcasts I currently regularly listen to.

So, today, let’s talk about the ‘less old’ movies.

When I did the previous two posts, I deliberately limited the movies in them to films released before I was born, so I never saw them – never could have seen them – in a cinema.

There are, were, plenty of good movies, of course, released after I was born but before I could probably or realistically have seen them – and/or remembered seeing them – in the cinema. I was born in August 1964, and none of the movies listed in the aforementioned posts were released after July 1964.

OK, now everyone differs, of course; some people swear blind they remember stuff from when they were three years’ old. Some folks say they have no clear memories before the age of about six.

Me? My earliest memory is being hugged by a relative. I remember her as huge, and she had a dark blue house coat. That’s it. That’s my earliest recollection. Auntie Dora. She was my grandmother’s cousin as I recall. She also died when I was about three. And as first memories go, it’s not the most impressive, be fair.

And it’s not even a clear memory. An impression of ‘being safe’ is about the only additional information I have to disclose.

But my clear memories? They start at about five years’ old. And the first film I remember seeing in the cinema was released in late 1969. Which fits.

I probably saw a movie or two before then, but I don’t remember it. And while that movie’s not in the list that follows (it was Paint Your Wagon, if you’re curious) I think it’s reasonable to add an entirely arbitrary couple of years to the arbitrary ‘time period’ and limit the movies below to movies released between August 1964 and the end of 1971.

So here are ten movies – released between August 1964 and December 1971 – that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that almost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re 50 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

(As with last Friday’s post, I’ll end each movie below with a line of dialogue that I like from the movie.)

OK then. In no particular order:


Planet Of The Apes, 1964

Given my interest in science fiction, and the movie itself, there was no way this wasn’t going to go on the list. In fact, when I first thought ‘how about some ‘old-ish’ movies, rather than just ‘old’, ie before I was born, this was the movie I was thinking about including. Oddly, I came across the story before seeing the film. Marvel Comics did an adaptation of Planet Of The Apes in comic book form. Except back then, they didn’t bother to get the image rights to the actor, so my first introduction to astronaut George Taylor didn’t look anything like Charlton Heston. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just loved the story, loved everything about it. I was probably too young to appreciate the cynicism inherent in the character, and the journey he as a character makes; I was too enthralled by the world created within the pages of the comic.

A team of human astronauts crash onto a planet, far from Earth, somewhere after the year 3000, where the dominant species is one of talking apes; their society has castes, based on the type of ape they are – chimpanzees are the scientists, orangutans the politicians and leaders, gorillas the army. All bar one of the astronauts are killed shortly after arrival and… Oh, other humans? They, we, are there, mute and hunted. We’re not treated as pets, we’re regarded as pests. And with Taylor’s arrival, well, the brown smelly stuff hits the round whirly thing.

All of that I got from the comic book.

And then I saw the movie.

And was captivated from the very first moments. Again, I’m unsure how old I was when I saw the movie, but now I got the cynicism, now I got saw the journey Taylor goes through, now I saw him as a reflection of a ‘civilised’ man faced with what he sees as an utterly uncivilised society. I’ve seen Planet of the Apes lord knows how many times, and every single time I get something new from it. Every single time, I notice an allusion I’ve previously missed. And the final scene never fails to hit hard, no matter how often I’ve rewatched it. There’s not a bad performance in the movie, and there’s no lesson, no warning – not really; a shocking movie on a shocking subject, that hits home every time. A classic.

Dr. Zaius: You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.


My Fair Lady, 1964

Released October 1964, so it slides in, just. Pretty sure I saw this for the first time at school, one of those ‘last day of the school year’ things. Oh, I’m a sucker for a great musical, beautifully produced, and the only thing that stopped me including Guys and Dolls in the previous posts was the presence of Marlon Brando in the movie… shudder. Well, with My Fair Lady, they got pretty much everything right. I don’t even have a problem with Marnie Nixon’s dubbing for Audrey Hepburn. Never seen Julie Andrews in the role, so no idea whether she would have been better as Eliza, but Hepburn is magnificent in the role. Rex Harrison and Wilfred Hyde-White are gloriously old-fashioned, as the roles call for. And the songs. My heavens, the songs. Almost every one is an ear worm, every one of them has a tune you could whistle (even out of tunedly, as I do) and Stanley Holloway is… well, he’s Stanley Holloway. I’ve never actually seen Pygmalion on stage, so I’ve no idea how much of the dialogue is direct from the original stage play, but this is simply a masterclass of ‘how you do a musical’ on screen. (My only problem with it, as others have identified, isn’t with the movie, but with the plot of the musical itself. She should never have gone back to him at the end…)

Eliza Doolittle: The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.


2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

As with Planet of the Apes, there was simply no way this could not be on the list. I’ve given up wondering whether I watch it now merely to enjoy the movie as a movie or whether it’s so I can sit their slack-jawed at the mastery of the medium of film, the sheer imagination slapped onto the screen, the wonderful cinematography, the special effects that haven’t’ dated (some have, but not many), or just to marvel at the conviction every actor brings to their role. Some changes from the novel, sure, but none that harm the movie, and a couple that flat out improve the story. Everything in this movie has a purpose. There’s not a wasted line, a wasted scene, a wasted shot.Ambitious, sure. Over-ambitious, occasionally. But what a movie, what a score, what a set of performances. Oh, and what a perfectly reasonable sounding, yet homocidal, computer in the form of HAL, voiced by Douglas Rain. Oh, and the monolith. What a wonderful cinematic image: flat, black, unknowable.

Three parts in this movie: pre-humans, followed by that jump cut from tossed bone to space-ship, The mundanity of space travel, followed by a thriller… and a psychedelic show leading towards a very strange hotel room before…. The End.

The story certainly wasn’t the first sf I’d come across where aliens would be… different to humanity, in ways we couldn’t predict. But to be so different, so unknowable. If you’ve not seen this movie, you’ve missed out. If you’ve seen it, there’s more to see.

(Not for nothing, but the sequel, 1984’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact, is also flat out excellent, but for very different reasons.)

HAL: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.



In The Heat Of The Night, 1967

I loathed this movie when I first saw it. I hated the racism of one of the lead characters, of the entire town in which it’s set. I saw it purely as a whodunnit, and nothing more than that. I wanted the lead characters to like each other…

I was young. I’m no longer young. I was immature. I don’t think I’m as immature now. I was an idiot. OK, I’m still an idiot, but not about this movie. I missed how necessary the brutality of the racism was to the story, how inherent the dislike of the protagonists are to the characters themselves, how the step by step revelations bring the strengths – and weaknesses – of all the characters to the fore. Poitier was never better (with the possible exception of the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which almost made it into the list but just didn’t make the cut), and Rod Steiger is wonderfully repellent. The true respect they show for each other as actors throughout the movie, and as characters only at the end…. it’s a privilege to watch. As a study of people who really don’t like each other but have to live with each other, work with each other, and obey the niceties and not-so-niceties of the time, it’s a wonder. Oh, and it’s a pretty good whodunnit police procedural as well.

Chief Gillespie: I got the motive which is money and the body which is dead.



The Lion In Winter, 1968

There’s nothing like an accurate retelling of history to make a great movie. And this is nothing like an accurate retelling of history. But it is a great movie. Based on a stage play, which for once is odd to me, for the scenery, and the settings, both inside and out, are so much a part of the movie, that for once it’s difficult to imagine the story without it. It’s Christmas 1183, and Henry II (a delightfully over the top, but necessarily so, Peter O’Toole) has summoned his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine from prison, and his three sons, to his castle for Christmas, and to decide the succession. Katharine Hepburn is regally… Well, she’s Katharine Hepburn, she was rarely anything else. The sons, played by Anthony Hopkins, John Castle and Nigel Terry are distinct characters, each with their own plans. Timothy Dalton as Philip II of France plays a significant role as well. And it’s completely fiction. There was no Christmas family get together at Chinon in 1183. But the performances, the direction and the script – gods alive, the script! – take hold of you from very early on, and don’t let your attention wander for one iota.

There’s not a single character in this movie who trusts another single character, and it’s a genuine pleasure to watch the plots, the arguments, the fury, and the reluctant admiration most have for the others. As characters, you understand. As actors, the trust they have for each other is immediately apparent, and lasts throughout. In some of the scenes, some of the scenery chewing scenes, one doesn’t know quite how this actor or that actor, managed to not be acted off the screen… and then a second later, it’s the other actors who are witness to fury and passion and fantastic acting.

It’s one of my favourite movies, and it’s historical nonsense, but a great, great movie.

Henry II: I’ve snapped and plotted all my life. There’s no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once.



Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 1969

I’ve no idea when I first heard of Butch Cassidy. Nor of The Sundance Kid. I was fascinated by the old west as a kid, and read every western novel, watched every tv western. So I’ve no doubt I was aware of them before I saw this movie, knowing that there were more legends than accuracy in the telling. And to be fair to the movie’s makers, they didn’t even pretend that this was an accurate retelling of the story of the two outlaws. I suspect they reached back to a line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and went with ‘This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’. And boy, did they ever. Butch and Sundance – played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford – are easy going, ruthless only when necessary, and portrayed less as outlaw protagonists than as outright good guys who just happen to be bank robbers. But this movie is about friendship and two men whose way of life, whose lives, are coming to an end. Whoever Robert Parker and Henry Longbaugh were, whatever they were like, you can lay odds they were nothing like the Butch and Sundance portrayed; no more than Etta Place was the demure schoolteacher played by Katharine Ross.

But as I say, they don’t pretend it’s anything other than a story about the old ways of the West slowly dying, and as a story about that, it’s fantastic. I’d say that the ending – a classic of a movie ending – pretends to be the truth no more than the rest of the movie, but you know what? That’s not true; in the last few minutes, there’s some truth showing on screen. Whether it’s what happened, I don’t know. But the legend becomes the fact.

Butch Cassidy: Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.



The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, 1965

From lighthearted fare to something less affable. Less affable? That’s unfair. There’s no amiability in this movie, no kindness, no gentleness. Nothing but unfairness. This is about as blunt and hard as you can get, and Richard Burton portrays the doomed agent Alex Leamas with exactly as much cynicism for life, for his work, for his job, as required. Exactly as much. For he’s a spy, playing dirty, under orders from ‘Control’, the same ‘Control’ television viewers got to barely know from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

But here he’s at the peak of his power and authority, and he sets Burton’s character a nasty task, which Burton only semi-reluctantly agrees to: to pretend to defect so he can leak disinformation. His contempt for the job comes to the fore, and you’re never quite sure, for much of the movie, how much of it is pretended. This is a world where people don’t tell you ‘don’t trust anyone, including me’; they take it as a given that that’s the case. For they don’t trust anyone either. And a man who never trusts can never be betrayed, only disappointed. You care about the characters in spite of them, not because of them, and the ending, the inevitable ending, is less depressing than satisfying in a way that unsettles.

Alec Leamas: She offered me free love. At the time, that was all I could afford.



El Dorado, 1966

Another western, but this one absolutely light-hearted in tone, deliberately so. A semi-remake of Rio Bravo (also starring John Wayne, but with Dean Martin in that one, Robert Mitchum in this), but based on Harry Brown’s novel The Stars In Their Courses, this one is tailor made for the roles Wayne wanted as he got just a bit older. James Caan is superb at the young man who can’t – not won’t, can’t – use a gun, but needs to win a fight, and Charlene Holt lights up the screen every time she appears. The plot is a fairly simple one: gun for hire (Wayne) with an old injury turns down a job out of professional courtesy for the local sheriff, an old friend, later hears someone else took it, and goes to help his mate… who’s now a drunk. That’s pretty much it, and you can guess how it goes from then on. Along the way, Wayne’s character picks up Caan’s.

The movie’s set pieces are what raise this from just another western to something I’ll happily rewatch whenever it’s on telly. The staging for each is immaculate, the gun play exactly what you want in an western, and Mitchum plays ‘vulnerable’ surprisingly well. I’ve heard that Mitchum was told ‘there’s no plot, there’s just characters’, and that’s unfair, but not hugely so. It’s an enormously fun movie, from start to finish, and after seeing this, it’s a damn pity Wayne and Mitchum never acted together again.

Sheriff J. P. Harrah: What the hell are you doin’ here?
Cole: I’m lookin’ at a tin star with a… drunk pinned on it.



M•A•S•H, 1970

Not for the first time, I was introduced to a movie I then came to love by my big brother. Mike loved this movie and sat me down to watch it. And I’m not sure which of us was more delighted that I shared his huge enjoyment of it. Based on the original novel, and sticking very close to it (which understandably the ensuing tv series ran away from fairly quickly), this is a fantastic movie about the dark humour necessary to survive a war while remaining relatively sane. I’d add the relatively, since the movie – and novel – makes clear these are brilliant war-zone doctors, yet as people there’s something missing in all of them.

If you’ve only seen the TV show, you’ve a shock coming your way when you encounter Sutherland’s Hawkeye, Gould’s Trapper John and Tom Skerritt’s Duke (a character omitted from the show). You do discover the origin of ‘Hotlips O’Hoolihan’s nickname, but some of the stuff that goes on stresses that these people – all of them – are under incredible pressure, and how they deal with it…? Well, maybe you’d have to be there to understand. Because I’ll happily appreciate it as a viewer without understanding it in the least.

These aren’t people I’d like to know, but they’re people I’d want as my doctors. The movie is entirely episodic, and the better for that, showing the chaos of war zone emergency surgery, punctuated by the pauses that never last.

Altman made a fantastic movie, which is funny, heartwarming (honestly!) And chaotic as hell. Recommended without hesitation.

Hotlips O’Houlihan: [to Father Mulcahy, referring to Hawkeye] I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps!
Father Mulcahy: [looks up from his Bible] He was drafted.



Fiddler On The Roof, 1971

Ah, what can I say about Fiddler of the Roof that others haven’t said with more wit, eloquence and heart? No idea. But it’s one of my favourite scripts, and it’s one of the best translations from stage-to-screen of any musical I’ve seen. A couple of songs have been cut, as have a couple of sub-plots, and more than a couple of characters. But it works beautifully. The score is, as you’d expect, wonderful. And the central performances – hell, every performance – is spot on.

But of course it’s Topol’s movie; as Tevye the milkman, in a place and time when that meant delivering milk out of the barrels into each home’s jugs frmo a horse and cart, he’s just about perfect. His discussions with God are a combination of philosophy and self-serving whinging. And they’re perfect. He’s a man who lives by tradition, and will not break it. But he’ll bend. And bend some more. And bend some more. Each time swearing this far but no more until he find he cannot, or will not, bend once again. Norma Crane as his long suffering wife is heartbreakingly good.

I find, as I get older, my ‘favourite’ song from the show changes. Where once I thought it ‘ok’, Topol’s and Crane’s rendition of Do You Love Me? is now one of my favourite pieces of any movie.

I watched it was some young, non-Jewish, children recently, kids of close friends. While some of the background required explanation, and the occasional jewish tradition needed explaining, the explanations were as pebbles to a mountain. They ‘got’ the movie, loved the songs, and cared for the characters. So will you.

Young Jewish Man: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, my son.
Young Jewish Man: Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!


Something different tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here. Part 3, about television pilots, is here. And part 3½ about old movies is here.)

In the posts above, I wrote about individual episodes of tv shows, and long running comic book series, and pilots that I’ll rewatch or reread whenever I teh opportunity presents itself.

And then I blew the format by using it as an excuse to just talk about ten movies – all of which were made before I was born – that I’ll rewatch whenever they’re on tv.

I specifically limited it to movies released before I was born, so I never saw them – never could have seen them – in a cinema.

And it wasn’t difficult – there were a lot of great movies made before I was born, in 1964.

There are plenty of good movies, of course, released after I was born but before I could probably or realistically have seen them – and remembered seeing them – in the cinema, say 1965 to 1971. And I might do some of them next week.

But today? Well, here are ten more ‘old’ movies – released pre-August 1964 – that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that malmost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re at least 60 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

OK then. In no particular order:

Seven Days In May, 1964
The first ‘conspiracy’ movie I remember seeing, and I saw it long before I understood anything about ‘Senators’ or ‘committes’ or eve the separation of powers. I just watched, thrilled at the great acting, the easy to follow plot (well, plots, to be fair; the sub-plot is every bit as good as the main plot it serves) and the the dialogue sparkles.

(Actually, that’s a thought. Should have done this before, but oh well. I’ll end each recommendation with a line of dialogue that I like from the movie.)

Anyway, the main plot is simple: a US President wants ‘peace with the enemy’, thinks it’ll benefit everyone. Senior army people think that’s bullshit – you can’t trust the enemy; they’re the enemy – and attempt a coup. A junior military officer stumbles over the plot and… well, you can guess the rest. But you can’t. Because there are enough twists and turns, and clever scripting, and presenting the ‘goodies’ as not always that good, and the ‘baddies’ as not always that bad. It was remade in 1994 with Sam Waterstone, Jason Robards and Forest Whitaker, but with no disrespect to those fine actors, Frederick March, Burt Reynolds and Kirk Douglas as the originals were all astonishingly good. The themes of the movie are betrayal, and when it’s a noble – not merely good, but noble – thing to betray something, or someone, for a greater good. Astonishing acting, astounding writing, and the harshness of the black and white cinematography still impresses today.

Eleanor Holbrook: I’ll make you two promises: a very good steak, medium rare, and the truth, which is very rare.
Singin’ In The Rain, 1952
From one area of ruthlessness – politics and the military – to another, the move from ‘silent movies’ to ‘talking pictures’ is depicted with class, humour, music, dance and some very, very funny comedy. I’ve seen all three of the main actors do better work, it’s true, but rarely when all three main leads were so damn good in an ensemble piece.

And let’s not forget Jean Hagen who absolutely nails her unpleasant role as Lina Lamont, and isn’t acted off the screen in any way by any of the three leads. I don’t know about whether she should have won, but, my heavens, Hagen earned her ‘best supporting actress’ Oscar nomination. There is a plot – the aforementioned move from silent to sound movies – but its less important than the set pieces, the joy expressed by all the lead actors and the wonderful production values. Everyone cared about this movie, and it shows.

I watched it recently with some children who’d never seen it before; was genuinely curious as to whether the class, the style, the fun, would translate . Every joke landed, ever bit that was supposed to be impressive was to them, and they absolutely loved it. Some movies, no matter when they’re set, are timeless. This is one of them.

Lina Lamont: I gave an exclusive to every paper in town.

The Maltese Falcon, 1941
A proper old-fashioned – in the best of ways – private eye whodunnit, complete with red herrings, murders, good guys, bad guys, gunsels, betrayals, a femme fatale, and a great story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Bogart and Astor are great onscreen together, and Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are just about perfect as villains about as different from each other as they could be. All looking for a black statuette of a falcon. There are double crosses, of course, and in the best traditions of film noir, there’s no one you can completely trust.

The police are the only – and I stress that – the only fairly disposable characters in the movie. But they’re intended to be. Bogart’s character was described by the novel’s author as “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” And it shows in his performance. He’s not a man to like, but he’s a man you’d hire to get the job done, and you’d never have any idea of the cost to him of doing it. There’s just nothing wrong with this movie. It’s glorious.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy: I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.
Sam Spade: You know, that’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere. 

King Kong, 1933
I’ve no idea when I first saw this movie. I know I was young, very young, and that I saw it with my big brother. And that both of us were flat out astonished and amazed that I wasn’t scared at any point. Instead I was thrilled. I was utterly thrilled, and enthralled by the story, the acting, but most of all by the special effects. I was old enough to know that Kong wasn’t ‘real’, but young enough to believe that he could have been. I certainly don’t remember thinking of Fay Wray as Ann Darrow as ‘attractive’; I was too young for that. I do recall thinking how brave she was… so y’know, maybe that comment about me not thinking Kong was ‘real’ was a bit of self-serving justification. The movie’s, the story has, been remade several times, but there’s nothing that comes close to the original for thrills and for sucking you in to the movie.

It was made in 1933, eighty-six years ago. And the special effects stand up today. Sure they’re a little rough and ready compared to CGI today, but when you’re watching it…? You don’t care. You’re – or at least I am – wholly in love with the story, the acting, the dialogue, and the completely real portrayal by every character on screen. And yes, I include Kong in that. If you’ve never seen the original, make time. It’ll be worth it. Robert Armstrong as the film producer Denham is worth the price of admission (as they used to say) on his own.

Police Lieutenant: Well, Denham, the airplanes got him.
Carl Denham: Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

12 Angry Men, 1957
when movies are made of plays, there’s an instant temptation to take advantage of the medium to stretch the story outside the limitations of a stage. (The obvious example that springs to mind is A Few Good Men. I’ve never seen it onstage but I know that lots of scenes ‘outside’ in the movie take place in offices and rooms in the play.)

This movie, however, resists that. Almost all the movie takes place inside one room, the jury room, as the jury enters, to deliberate whether someone committed murder. Eleven jurors – the credits list them solely as Juror 1, Juror 2, etc. – for various reasons are ready to quickly vote ‘guilty’. One juror differs, thinks the young man on trial for murder is not guilty, and won’t change his mind. The movie, over the next hour and a half, shows the deliberations, shows why each of the eleven think the kid is guilty… and slowly, but inexorably, juror 8 (Henry Fonda) argues, cajoles, and one by one, changes each juror’s mind as to whether the young man is guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘.

All of the jurors have their reasons, some more intellectual than others, some more emotional, some more justifiable, some more rational… Even when you know that juror 8 will prevail, even when the penny drops what’s happening, the intensity of the dialogue, and the close atmosphere inside the room, brilliantly depicted by the actors and the direction by Sidney Lumet, keeps you watching, seeing how it’ll happen. And juror 8 doesnt do all the work. There are a couple of moments when an entirely trivial comment or action by another juror triggers a thought that switches yet another juror’s vote. The pressure builds and doesn’t let up. And the emotional roller coaster in the room is no more than I’d imagine in some audience members. A brilliant movie, brilliantly acted.

Juror #6: You think he’s not guilty, huh?
Juror #8: I don’t know. It’s possible.

The Third Man, 1949
There’s very little to like about The Third Man. It’s not as if there are any characters who come out of the story as appearing good, or moral, or just. So you look for the flaws. And wow are there flaws. But they’re flaws that grab hold of your attention and shake it until you’re wondering whether the flaws are what makes someone interesting, and asking when do flaws become irredeemable? And further: are flaws irredeemable. Orson Wells as Harry Lime is a man made up of nothing but flaws, and yet, and yet, that’s what makes him interesting. Take away the flaws and you’d have someone empty. Jospeh Cotton’s character also has flaws but they take a while to identify, and you’re kind of disappointed in them and him when they come to the surface. While Alisa Valli’s character? Well, you know she has flaws, but you’re never quite sure what they are, and just when you think you do, she proves you wrong, by revealing another. This is their movie. Oh, sure there are other actors, other great actors, but it’s these three who are the centre of the movie, which is weird since Harry Lime, despite being the subject of the movie, doesn’t actually appear for some time, for some long time.

Flaws; they make a person, and they break them. And that you’re not sure which character I’m talking about is why the film is so damned good.

Anna Schmidt: A person doesn’t change just because you find out more.

Kind Hearts and Coronets, 1949
Every Saturday on the blog, I recommend silliness. Indeed, I regularly do so on Twitter. For all the harsh truths that surrpinds us, for all the shittiness around and abroad, sometimes you need some silliness in your life. Hell, we all need more silliness.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present for your consideration: Kind Hearts and Coronets.

The plot is delightfully silly, yet perfectly rational. Presented in flashback as a man, played by Dennis Price, awaits his hanging for murder, the movie relates how he – in order to inherent a fortune – decided to kill everyone in his extended family who would inherit first. All the characters he intends to murder are portrayed by the same actor: Alec Guinness. And all are eccentrics, all slightly nutty, most elderly, all exaggerations of classic tropes: the Reverend, the general, the Banker, The murders are equally exaggerated and both simple and simplistic.

And considering this is a cold blooded serial killer we’re watching in action, it’s hard, genuinely difficult, to feel badly towards him. It’s not so much that we want him to succeed. Indeed, there’s a wonderful, genuinely wonderful twist, in the final moments, and no it’s not that it was all a big misunderstanding – it’s far far cleverer than that. But as I say, it’s not that you want him to succeed, but you do want to see what he does next, how he accomplishes the next murder. Guinness is sublime in more than half a dozen different roles; each very different, each very much part of a family. (The story goes that he was offered four of the roles and asked if he could play all of them…) The script sparkles, the direction is gorgeous and the sets are just about perfect. Silliness exemplified, and recommended without the slightest iota of hesitation.

[Louis Mazzini just murdered his relative, Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, who was distributing suffragette literature from a balloon over London]

Louis Mazzini: I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square.

The Manchurian Candidate, 1962
Another conspiracy tale, but a very different one, with very clear goodies and baddies. The goodies are good, the baddies are evil. Is there such a thing as evil? Watch this and you’ll answer yed. But, and here’s why this movie is so bloody good, the killer isn’t the evil; those who make him one are. A group of soldiers return from a war; they were saved from certain death by their captain, who becomes a national hero. Which is odd, because while they’re certain beyond doubt that he’s the finest human they know… they also remember him as being disliked, being cold, being aloof. And why are the soldiers having nightmares about being tortured when they weren’t? And why is the hero, being groomed for the right marriage, the right political career, suffering blackouts… during which people inconvenient to his future are being killed.

The original ‘brainwashing an assassin’ movie with an added ‘let’s brainwash a load of others to say he’s just wonderful’ bit to ice the cake. Angela Lansbury as his mother, who knows a lot more than she lets on, James Gregory as her husband, a politician on the make, a gullible drunkard. And a pack of playing cards plays a central role, both in the plot and as a symbol of something that’s both exactly what it seems, but also so much more. As a representation of the main characters, that can’t be beat.

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

To Catch A Thief, 1955
As a ‘by the numbers’ movie, To Catch A Thief can’t really be beaten. The plot is by the numbers, the direction is pretty pedestrian, the sets are… nice but ok. So why will I rewatch it? Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; the pair of them on screen set the screen alight. I’ve never been completely convinced by the romance they’re supposed to be having but the friendliness – and the sheer pleasure they’re having acting with each other – comes through strong, strong enough that it’s an equal pleasure watching them play off each other. The other actors are all solid as well, and with only a couple of exceptions, every sentence of dialogue either moves the plot forward or tells you something about the character. There’s enough suspense to keep you wondering what happens next, although the final revelation of the true thief isn’t exactly earthshocking. The basic plot of a retired cat burglar discovering someone else is impersonating him, using his style, and being forced to find out who is, as I say, pretty by the numbers but it’s fun to watch, and fun to feel part of.

John Robie: [to Frances] Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire, 1961
British science fiction went through a very ‘matter of fact’ stage in the late 1950s and early 1960s; several films showing ‘ordinary people doing ordinary jobs’ facing weirdness and strangeness. What marks The Day The Earth Caught Fire as something special is how the strangeness is portrayed, as something happening to the characters rather than then being involved with it. The main characters work for a newspaper and it’s through their efforts that we discover what’s happened… and what has happened is that various weapons tests have tilted the Earth on its axis. We watch the journalists, and the editor, put the story together, while seeing their flaws as people contrasted with their skills at their jobs. Chasing leads, getting the quotes right, doing the research, this is as much a movie about working for a newspaper as it is about the earth losing a battle against science. The final scene of the movie shows two editions of the newspaper ready to go to print: one if the attempt to ‘save the Earth’ succeeds, one if it doesn’t. Edward Judd is amazingly good as a newspaperman who used to be very good, but hasn’t been very good for quite some time, and Loe McKern is glorious as his friend, colleague and fellow scribbler. It’s very British, very 1950s, and very good indeed.

Peter Stenning: I’m not up on my sci-fi. So, we’re orbiting towards the sun, but how many billion light-years…
Bill Maguire: If that’s true… I’d say there’s about… four months.
Dick Sanderson: Before what?
Bill Maguire: Before there’s a delightful smell in the universe of charcoaled mankind.


If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. Something light, something fun, something very silly. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here. Part 3, about television pilots, is here.)

In the posts above, I’ve mentioned tv shows or long running comic book series, and that an individual episode or issue will… stand out… for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing or art on that issue will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching or rereading. So I’ll often rewatch or reread.

It occurs to me that in these days of franchise movies, of movies having continuity with other movies – or even tv series in the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – there’s something comfortable in rewatching old movies where they tell a story from start to finish.

By old, let’s say 60 years ago. That’s a nice round number, and it was before I was born, so they qualify as ‘old‘.

OK, they qualify as ‘very old‘.

All right, ok, they were made before I was born, so they qualify as ‘ancient, oh my god, so old, fuck me, budgie, did they have movies back then?‘ Happy now?

None of the movies below, that I enjoy rewatching whenever they’re on telly were made after 1959.

(And yes, if you’re thinking this is a pitiful attempt to just list ten of my favourite ‘old’ movies that I’m trying to show horn into the ‘one offs’ thing, you’re not wrong. But hey, its” my blog, so there!)

So here are ten ‘old’ movies that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that malmost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re at least 60 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

OK then. In no particular order:

A Matter of Life And Death, 1946
I’m pretty sure I first saw this film at school, one of those ‘it’s the end of the school year, you can all watch a movie in the assembly hall’. Anyway, I remember watching it as a child. And although I’m sure I got different things from it, I enjoyed different elements of it back then – I’m certain I couldn’t have given a damn about the central love story, for a start – the charm and the grace of the movie hit me as strongly then as it does every time I watch it. David Niven is glorious in his role as a wartime bomber pilot, about to very obviously die when his plane crashes, and he jumps from his plane without a parachute when he… doesn’t. Die, that is. He survives, and the reason why is, as the movie goes on to demonstrate is either because heaven made a mistake, and he slipped though their ever so efficient system… or he was just lucky. And the rest of the movie very much doesn’t tell you which is the ‘right’ answer. Niven’s character has a brain tumour that is giving him delusions of him having to fight his case that since he did survive, he should get to continue his life. And heaven argues against it. There’s even a trial, with historical characters arguing against him, while his surgeon tries to argue Niven’s case. It’s become famous not only because of the glorious performances but because of the cinematic decision to film/ the ‘real world’ in colour, and the ‘Other World’ in black and white. (Not quite accurate; all the scenes were filmed in colour, but the Other World bits omitted the colour part of the Three strip technicolour part when processed.) Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring somehow manage not to act everyone else of the screen, as does Kim Hunter in a perfectly judged performance. I think she has the hardest role in the movie, and he pulls it off with style and class.
The Dawn Patrol, 1938
There had been a previous version of The Dawn Patrol, in 1930, like this version based on a short story. But this version is just perfect. It’s about the terrible inevitability of both death, and the impossibility of terrible decision making making. I don’t mean terrible as ‘wrong’ but as ‘unpleasant, seriously, horrifying’. The movie starts as it ends, with a man in charge of a Royal Flying Corps squadron in the First World War, receiving new recruits, sending them up, knowing that some of them won’t return. Not ‘won’t return from a mission sooner or later’, but knowing with absolute certainty, that of the men he sends up, men he knows aren’t ready for it… some won’t return from that mission. The major in charge, Basil Rathbone, used to be ‘one of the lads’. But now he’s in charge. And he’s hated by Eroll Flynn and David Niven for his uncaring attitude, his ‘we follow orders, so send them up’ attitude. (Of course, they don’t know that he does care, but he has a job to do.) Then Rathbone leaves and promotes Flynn to the job… and Flynn quickly discovers why Rathbone’s character did what he did, and his friendship with Niven falters, then fractures, then dies. Eventually of course, Flynn is replaced… by Niven. And Niven discovers the truth of command. The movie ends with Niven telling the new recruits who’ve just arrived, with hardly any experience in the air… to be ready for the dawn patrol. There have been plenty of other movies that cover the same subject material (Aces High springs to mind) but The Dawn Patrol did it better and with both more heart and more ruthlessness.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir, 1947
I went back and forth on this one, since there was a tv series in 1968, with Edward Mulhare and Hope Lange in the lead roles, but it was effectively a sitcom, and so under my rules it’s an entirely different thing. Look, I bloody love this movie, so it’s in. A widow with a young daughter moves into a cottage that used to be owned by a seaman, who long ago killed himself… and is reputed to be haunted. It’s a love story and Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison were never better than as the genteel widow and the rough and ready seaman. Over a decade, before he realises he’s harming her by not letting her live her life, he shows his feelings and she shows hers. She becomes a writer, telling ‘his’ stories, and they become closer still… until, until… He leaves, to let her live her life for herself. Or at least he says he does, and waits… And waits. George Sanders as a particularly loathsome ladies man is wonderfully lizard like, and the supporting cast and crew don’t put a step wrong. But it’s the central performances that raise this movie from ‘Yeah, ok, ghost falls in love with human…’ to ‘oh my god, this is just wonderful’. I find it genuinely impossible not to rewatch this if ever it’s on.

Great Expectations, 1946
Another one I first saw at school. Great Expectations has always been a weird one for me. I saw this at school, and loved it. Then I was forced to read it at school… and hated it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Dickens’s writing (with the notable exception of A Christmas Carol), and I suspect being forced to read Great Expectations at the age of 14 is a large part of the reason why. But pretty much everything I don’t like about the book is either cut, or reinterpreted, or just made alive by this movie. And yes, it’s been filmed lots of times, has been shot as a period piece and as a modern piece a couple of decades back. But none of them for me have the skill, wit and talent involved as this movie does. John Mills as the young, then slightly older, adult Pip shows all the charm, arrogance and ultimate folly, you’d expect from an actor of his calibre. David Lean’s directing is smart and shows the light touch you’d hope for. Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson as Estella (child and adult respectively) shine off the screen. Miss Haversham is suitably pitiful and pitiable, bitter but apologetic by the end. And Finlay Currie is the flat out scariest Magwitch there’s ever been… this is an objective fact. Oddly, the only character who comes over to me as less than he could have been is Alec Guinness’s Herbert Pocket, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. But that’s a small price to pay for this wonderful movie.

Casablanca, 1942
Where do you start with Casablanca? One of the most quoted – often inaccurately quoted – movies ever made… it’s a glorious, wonderful, movie with humour, seriousness, suspense, and satisfaction. Bogart as the now utterly cynical nightclub owner Rick Blaine, minding his own business, catering to whoever… surviving. He’s a survivor, and that’s all he cares about. And he doesn’t much care for that either. He’s friends, well maybe friends is too strong a word, with the local police chief, a cheerfully corrupt Claude Raines (who’s quite clearly having the time of his life in the role), less friendly with the thieves and criminals in the city, but on ‘polite’ terms with the Germans occupying the city. As long as no one bothers him, as long as no one causes him inconvenience, Rick is if not contentedly living, then at least miserably… existing. And then even that is turned upside down as an ex-lover, who abandoned him walks into his nightclub with her thought-lost husband and begs him for help. And what he does, how he does it, how his life changes… is the movie. Oh, there’s plenty else that goes on, but it’s a character study of a man brought low, but who survives, stops existing and starts living again. And as a character study of a place, a person, a man who doesn’t want to be a hero, isn’t a hero in fact, how he rediscovers a world outside his nightclub where he’s been hiding from life… it’s rarely been done better, and never with such class and style.

Duck Soup, 1933
Trying to identify which is my favourite Marx Brothers’ film is a bit like asking which is my favourite single malt whiskey. Sure I may have a favourite, but the others are pretty damn good as well. In Duck Soup, however, everything can together perfectly as a movie… it’s not only riotously funny, it not only showcases each of the brothers’ talents, not only is the script a delight… but it’s shot beautifully, letting the visual gags breathe. The plot involves Groucho’s character – Rufus T Firefly – being appointed leader of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia, in order to continue to get financial aid, and a neighbouring country senidng in Chico and Harpo as spies to get dirt on Firefly so their ambassador can romantically pursue Margaret Dumont’s character, who is supplying the financial aid. So there IS a plot… but, as always, that’s just an excuse for everyone to have an an enormous amount of fun.

The Philadelphia Story, 1940
I quite like the later High Society as a film, but I love the original. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey. with a sparkling script, easily as quotable as Casablanca’s, and with flawed characters that somehow are more attractive as characters because of their flaws. Katharine Hepburn is more imperious than at any time until her later Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion In Winter (another of my favourite ever movies). I’ve seen it described as a love story, but it’s not; not really. It’t a story about love, about falling in love, discovering that’s not enough, and wanting the other person to change… not realising that even if that happened, that’d not be enough unless you also change.

Mind you it’d get onto any of my favourites list simply for the line spoken by one hungover character: “This is one of those days that the pages of history teach us are best spent lying in bed.

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, 1954
Another Bogart movie and althought he’s unquestionably the star of the movie, and his performance superb, he’s not the reason I rewatch. In fact, whisper it very quietly, the scenes with Bogart aren’t my favourote parts of the movie, by a long way. It’s Jose Ferrer as the smart, not entrely sympathetic, lawyer, Van Johnson as a main character facing court martial, and Fred MacMurray playng against type as a good old fella, love and soul of the party, smart, a fella you could trust… who turns out to be a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work, cowardly and self-centered beyond belief. At the centre of this movie is ‘doing the right thing is never as simple or risk free as it appears, and if it seems so, you’re wrong’. A disliked captain is relived of command during a naval engagement. Should he have been relieved? Was it jealousy, concern, over-reaction? Or was it only but always merely a judgment call… and – if so – was the right all made?

Witness For The Prosecution, 1957
Another trial movie, but this one is set almost entirely around the trial. Tyrone Power is an American accused of killing a woman for her money, and his wife – Marlene Dietrich – goes into the witness box to voluntarily testify against her husband… causing Charles Laughton, her husband’s barrister to go that extra mile to discredit her…. Which he does, proving she perjured herself out of malice towards her husband. So why doesn’t he feel satisfied? Strong story, clever performances, with one of the best twist endings ever committed to film. Wonderful. I can’t say that this was Laughton’s greatest ever performance – I’ve rarely seen him deliver a i performance – but I particularly love his portrayal as a famous and deservedly respected barrister heading towards the twilight of his career, enjoying the legal argument and the cut and thrust of cross-examination… and thinking he’s aware of his own limitations but as with so many great men, wholly but sadly mistaken.

Citizen Kane, 1941
For all its faults – and there are many, and for all that its plot makes no bloody sense whatever, this is a masterpiece in keeping you watching; the acting is first rate, the dialogue makes you pay attention every second it’s on, and there are so many little bits that in a few seconds portray in detail without a word. Whether it’s physical distance between a husband and wife as an analogy for the increasing emotional distance, or the long shot turning into a dingy nightclub the morning after the night before via going a rainy window, there’s not a moment of this film that hasn’t been thought through. Ostensibly an examination of a life, it’s actually a pretty good look what what people want others to see of them. The dialogue varies between pedestrian and pithy, between clever and cocky. But damn, when it delivers, it delivers in style.
Y’know, I reached the end of this post and could have easily written another about another ten… maybe next week, but with same rules applying: their existence must pre-date my own.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. Something light, something fun, something very silly. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.