Suddenly (1954)

Suddenly

Probably the first time, but not the last, that Frank Sinatra tried to be Humphrey Bogart on screen. Little did he know that he had enough of his own presence to make the part fly.

Ostensibly the story about a putative assassination of the US President (that would have been Eisenhower at the time (a German noun meaning metal beater, or iron worker, making him suspiciously German for a guy who beat up the Germans). Ir maybe they were talking about Truman. Not so ostensibly a film Sinatra needed to earn some money at a time his career was flagging for heroin abuse and delusions of grandeur.

Not much here that wasn’t on TV at the time too, with Sterling Hayden coming across as one of those loud and unsympathetic cops I loathed as a kid when watching American TV shows. Nor did I like the kid, whom I’d have beaten up between classes for being a right little Nazi.

The reason this is nowhere near film noir is that it wears its heart on its sleeve, with no need to hide or allude to anything. Everything is right out in the open, and none of it really means anything. Except, perhaps, the idea that violent gun crime can be unpredictable and acceptable. Is this where that idea started?

Credits

United Artists, 75 minutes, black and white.

Dirercted by Lewis Allen. Written by Richard Sale. Cinematography by Charles G Clarke. Produced by Robert Bassler. Music by David Raksin.

Featuring Frank Sinatra as John Baron, Sterling Hayden as Sheriff Tod Shaw, James Gleason as Peter ‘Pop’ Benson, Nancy Gates as Ellen Benson, Kim Charney as Peter ‘Pidge’ Benson III, Paul Frees as Benny Conklin, Christopher Dark as Bart Wheeler. Willis Bouchey as Dan Carney Paul Wexler as Deputy Slim Adams, James O’Hara as Jud Kelly, Kem Dibbs as Wilson, Clark Howat as Haggerty, Charles Smith as Bebop.

Algiers (1938)

An unexpectedly absorbing, haunting film.

I had known of Boyer really only as a crooner, not the prolific actor he was before I was born. The part of Pepe le Moko was perfect for him as the Parisian gangster exiled in the Algiers Casbah. He is the undisputed master of the rabbit warren of alleys and narrow streets, leading police on a merry chase, but is undone when a Parisian woman on holiday reminds him of being free to walk Paris streets.

I loved the whole thing, sentiment and silliness an’ all.

Apparently served as the inspiration for Casablanca, and made Hedy Lamarr a star, though I can’t really see what all the fuss was about.
Calleia was great as the honourable Algiers cop Slimane.

Can’t understand why UA let their ownership of this one expire.

Credits

United Artists, 96 minutes, black and white.

Directed by John Cromwell. Written by John Howard Lawson, James M Cain. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Produced by Walter Wanger. Music by Vincent Scotto, Mohamed Ygerbuchen.

Featuring Charles Boyer as Pepe le Moko, Sigrid Gurie as Ines, Hedy Lamarr as Gaby, Joseph Calleia as Inspector Slimane, Alan Hale as Grandpere, Gene Lockhart as Regis, Walter Kingsford as Chef Inspector Louvain, Paul Harvey as Commissioner Janvier, Stanley Fields as Carlos, Johnny Downs as Pierrot, Charles D. Brown as Max, Robert Greig as Giraux, Leonid Kinskey as L’Arbi, Joan Woodbury as Aicha, Nina Koshetz as Tania.

Ultraviolet (1998)

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This is an entry about the British TV series, not the 2006 film or the 2008 Japanese anime series.

Although stylish and moody in a way the British are not known for, the plot as somewhat aimless and lacking punch, even when revealing the plans of vampires to cause a nuclear winter to reduce the human population.

Still, I enjoy watching Idris Elba, and Phillip Quast was quietly convincing as the conflicted priest-cum-vampire killer.

Susannah Harker, on the other hand, just struck me as that kind of sulky, precious British bitch I knew so well when I was chasing them.

Credits

Channel 4, 300 minutes, colour.

  • Episode 1: Habeas Corpus
  • Episode 2: In Nomine Patris
  • Episode 3: Sub Judice
  • Episode 4: Mea Culpa
  • Episode 5: Terra Incognita
  • Episode 6: Persona Non Grata

Written and directed by Joe Ahearne. Cinematography by Peter Greenhalgh. Produced by Sophie Balhetchet, Bill Shapter. Music by Sue Hewitt.

Featuring Jack Davenport as Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield, Susannah Harker as Dr Angela March, Idris Elba as Vaughan Rice, Philip Quast as Father Pearse Harman, Colette Brown as Kirsty, Fiona Dolman as Frances, Thomas Lockyer as Jacob, Corin Redgrave as Dr Paul Hoyle, Stephen Moyer as Jack

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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All the allegations of plagiarism against Richard Condon aside, I can’t shake the feeling that he was having a laugh at us all. The point of The Manchurian Candidate seems to be how readily we will believe a brainwashing plot by the communists, but not one perpetrated by our own mass media society.

We are willing to believe white is black so long as someone tells us long enough, and to betray even our closest friends if only a senator McCarthy/Iselin, and the media, tell us to do it.

Today, do we not still allow economic vandals a free hand to collapse the world economy again, and do we not allow similar people to claim that climate change is not affected by industrial activity, or that we need to vote against our own liberties and interests? To buy shit we don’t really need or want? To conform and react as directed by mass media ‘opinion’?

These were all themes coming to the fore in the later 1950s, when Condon might have written his book. Perhaps these themes were also what led to the plagiarism charges laid against him at the time. Would it not be a laugh on us all if he simply put together passages from other lauded works in a pastiche to make his own?

All the same, Frank Sinatra actually gives some kind of performance in the film, and the whole thing hangs together as a thriller with some solid performances by Harvey, Lansbury and especially James Gregory as the super repulsive Senator Iselin, surely modeled on McCarthy. I loved the little observations of his preening, modelling his pout on Abraham Lincoln, and noticeably styling his stentorian accusations on Joseph McCarthy. Great stuff.

The encounter scenes between Sinatra and Leigh, and the fight sequence between Sinatra and Silva still count as among the most magnetic in film history of the period.

I gather Sinatra had rather a lot more influence on how this film was put together than an actor ought to, but it doesn’t look like he did too much harm here.

It looks almost like a focus group, don't it?
It looks almost like a focus group, don’t it?

Credits

Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Condon. Cinematography by Lionel Lindon. Produced by John Frankenheimer, George Axelrod. Music by David Amram.

Featuring Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco, Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw, Angela Lansbury as Eleanor Iselin, Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney, Henry Silva as Chunjin, James Gregory as Senator John Iselin, Leslie Parrish as Jocelyn Jordan, John McGiver as Senator Thomas Jordan, Khigh Dheigh as Dr Yen Lo.

Baby Face Nelson (1957)

At the very beginning we are instructed by the stern voice of a narrator that in the 1930s good men worked to buy homes and provide for their families.

It was staggering lie that many people in the 1950s must have seen as such. What really happened in the 1930s is that American plutocrats destroyed the world economy for the first time, and plunged most Americans into abject poverty, if not into ruin and suicide.

The whole film, then, focuses on sociopathy as the explanation for men who turned against the laws and conventions that worked against them.

The shrill and hysterical jazz brass section completely misrepresented the time and circumstances of the man called Baby Face. Perhaps this was indicative of the revisionism of American history: the producers thought American audiences were too stupid or too oblivious to remember.

A forgettable film, even though Mickey Rooney acted his heart out.

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Credits

United Artists, 85 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Don Siegel. Written by Irving Shulman from a story by Irving Shulman, Daniel Mainwaring, Robert Adler. Cinematography by Hal Mohr. Produced by Al Zimbalist. Music by Van Alexander.

Featuring Mickey Rooney as Lester ‘Baby Face Nelson’ Gillis, Carolyn Jones as Sue Nelson, Cedric Hardwicke as Doc Saunders, Leo Gordon as John Dillinger. Anthony Caruso as John Hamilton, Jack Elam as Fatso Nagel, John Hoyt as Samuel Parker. Ted de Corsia as Rocca. Elisha Cook Jr as Homer Van Meter.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

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Joss Whedon is a pretty multitalented guy, writing and directing the box office hit The Avengers (2012) and following up with the TV show Agents of SHIELD, but he has a checkered history with commercial success. His résumé includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), Angel (1999–2004), Firefly (2002–03), and the Firefly spin-off film, Serenity (2005).

My subject here is Dollhouse, which failed to attract sufficient ratings to be profitable for 20th Century Fox Television; it was renewed for a second season only with a budget cut and a cancellation date in view.

The premiss is similar to the French film Nikita (1990) that led to a franchise, with Canadian TV series La Femme Nikita (1997-2001), the American version, Nikita (2010-2013), and probably also Alias (2001-2006).

Sexy women with guns. Fetishised violence and thanatos.

Dollhouse had an interesting twist on the fetish assassin theme: its characters were all brain-wiped and programmable to fulfill whatever mission wealthy clients would pay for.

The hook is that one of them, Echo (Eliza Dushku), becomes increasingly self-aware, gradually understanding that she has been brain-wiped, and motivating a rebellion of sorts among the other ‘dolls’, to determine their own missions and purposes.

I think the entire genre runs out of steam pretty quickly. Storylines become increasingly improbable, and the tease can last only so long before it becomes boring.

Nevertheless, I thought this one was probably better than the others, even if some episodes of Alias were pretty impressive. What Dollhouse offers that the others don’t is a fatalism about people that sits well with the increasingly authoritarian, police-state measures imposed in the US. It might sit as a zeitgeist piece in decades to come. Or it might disappear completely from view in future considerations of early 21st century TV. All the same, I thought the series worth my time in increments across a couple of weeks.

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Credits

20th Century Fox Television, Mutant Enemy Productions, Boston Diva Productions 42-50 minutes per episode, with 14 episodes in season 1, and 13 episodes in season 2.

Written, directed, and produced by various (see IMDB credits list).

Featuring Eliza Dushku as Echo, Harry Lennix as Boyd Langton, Fran Kranz as Topher Brink, Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard, Enver Gjokaj as Victor, Dichen Lachman as Sierra, Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt, Miracle Laurie as Mellie, Amy Acker as Dr. Claire Saunders, Reed Diamond as Laurence Dominic, Liza Lapira as Ivy, Summer Glau as Bennett Halverson, Alan Tudyk as Alpha.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

A lovely piece of visual fluff from which all meaning has been meticulously scrubbed by resort of the Millennial obsession with eastern mysticism and the nonsense idea of balance, harmony, and karma.

I guess it took people of the bankable street cred of Wachowski siblings to attract enough money to make such a long and void assemblage of special effects, credible actors, and flat entertainment, just the way Hays and Breen would have liked it – plus or minus a tit or two.

I couldn’t help thinking that Aeon Flux (2005) Ultraviolet (2006) and had already traversed the Neo Seoul 2144 territory, and better. Hugo Weaving was good as Jack, but Nick Cave would have been better.

The Wachoswkis can outdo Tarantino! But I’m sure so could I with half the money.

I’ll watch it again soon, just to double-check my assumptions.

Credits

Warner Brothers, Cloud Atlas Production, X-Filme Creative Pool, Anarchos Production, 172 minutes, colour.

Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer. Written by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, from a novel by David Mitchell. Cinematography by Frank Gribe, Jphn Toll. Produced by Grant Hill, Stefan Arndt, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Music by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil.

Featuring (most in multiple rôles) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant.

Luther (2010-2013)

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A smart and polished BBC television police drama with heavy psychological storylines borrowing from the Hannibal Lecter franchise in a uniquely British way, with a female nemesis and anti-heroine played wickedly by Ruth Wilson, who almost steals the show from Idris Elba.

Elba is not only charismatic, but also convincing as the murder cop who sometimes knows he’s crossed the line and become what he hunts. Perhaps the only weak point was the original complication of a faithless wife becoming the focus of a somewhat clichéd frame-up, but even this was handled well.

There was an abortive attempt to re-make the series for the US market, and some talk about a film, but I haven’t heard any more on that score. There was also a rumour that Ruth Wilson’s character, Alice Morgan – a kind of Dr Moriarty arch enemy, but also a soulmate for Luther – was to get her own spin-off show, but nothing has, as yet, materialised.

Made in three separate installments of six, four, and four episodes. This is seriously good fun. Much better than almost any US cop show, and much underrated just because it’s British. Sometime soon the Yanks will stop fucking up shows made elsewhere by ‘re-making’ them for the US market and just enjoy what they cannot create left to their own devices.

Ruth Wilson and Idris Elba.
Ruth Wilson and Idris Elba.

Credits

BBC Drama Productions, 57 minutes per episode, colour.

Directed by Sam Miller, Brian Kirk, Stefan Schwartz, Farren Blackburn. Written and created by Neil Cross. Cinematography by Julian Court, Giulio Biccari, Tim Fleming, John Conroy, Stephan Pehrsson. Produced by Phillippa Giles, Idris Elba, Leila Kirkpatrick, Katie Swinden, Claire Bennett, Martin Coates. Music by Paul Englishby.

Featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, Warren Brown as DS Justin Ripley, Dermot Crowley as DSU Martin Schenk, Michael Smiley as Benny Silver, Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan, Paul McGann as Mark North, Nikki Amuka-Bird as DCI Erin Gray, Steven Mackintosh as DCI Ian Reed, Saskia Reeves as DSU Rose Teller, Indira Varma as Zoe Luther.

Lady in the Lake (1947)

lady-in-the-lakeRobert Montgomery without his face is just awful; the accent doesn’t carry the hard-boiled tough guy, and I don’t care that he had to direct the film as well: the message is the medium, and the medium is the message, pilgrim!

The ‘point of view’ gimmick of not showing the lead rather than what he sees is just twee. It might work for porno blow jobs, but it doesn’t really cut it for thrillers – not when the intended voyeur has to share the hicksville Montgomery accent.

All the same, Audrey Totter had her moments as the gold-digging prick tease. I have known some girls like that I almost did everything for. Almost!

It’s a shame Steve Fisher didn’t get the screenplay under control, or maybe editor Gene Ruggiero was smoking weed when he glossed over continuity.

The Christmas chorus theme in the film score worked well; I always did think the carols by the hypocrites had an ominous ring to them.

Credits

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 105 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Robert Montgomery. Written by Steve Fisher, from the novel by Raymond Chandler. Cinematography by Paul Vogel. Produced by George Haight. Music by David Snell.

Featuring Robert Montgomery as Phillip Marlowe, Audrey Totter as Adrienne Fromsett, Lloyd Nolan as Lieutenant DeGarmot, Tom Tully as Captain Fergus Kane, Leon Ames as Derrace Kingsby, Jayne Meadows as Mildred Havelend, Richard Simmons as Chris Lavery, Morris Ankrum as Eugene Grayson.

Battle Los Angeles (2011)

Strangely engaging end of days scenario. Funny that this kinda thang only happens to ‘murkins on ‘murkin soil. What happened to the rest of the world? We all died, I guess, unless we all came up with franchises on modern-day Audie Murphys of our own.

I guess it’s easier cheering US troops killing aliens than cheering them when killing us.

Credits

Columbia Pictures, 116 minutes, colour.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Written by Chris Bertolini. Cinematography by Lukas Ettlin. Produced by Jeffrey Chernov, David Greenblatt. Music by Brian Tyler.

Featuring Aaron Eckhart as Michael Nantz, Michelle Rodriguez as Elena Santos, Ramon Rodriguez as William Martinez, Bridget Moynahan as Michele, Ne-Yo as Kevin ‘Specks’ Harris, Michael Peña as Joe Rincon, Will Rothhaar as Lee ‘Cowboy’ Imlay, Cory Hardrict as Jason ‘Cocheez’ Lockett, Jim Parrack as Peter ‘Irish’ Kerns, Gino Anthony Pesi as Nick ‘Stavs’ Stavrou, James Hiroyuki Liao as Steven ‘Motorolla’ Mottola, Noel Fisher as Shaun ‘Casper’ Lenihan, Adetokumboh M’Cormack as Jibril A ‘Doc’ Adukwu, Neil Brown as Richard ‘Motown’ Guerrero, Bryce Cass as Hector Rincon, Joey King as Kristen.