Monthly Archives: October 2012

Lawrence of Arabia / The Boys From Syracuse: London Film Festival

The London Film Festival is always a showcase for the best in new cinema, but for me the Classics/Treasures strand is the highlight.

The David Lean film of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, about the life of T.E. Lawrence, is now fifty years old, and has been restored with in high definition, building on the 1988 ‘director’s cut’, which restored several minutes of footage. The film itself has been criticized for historical inaccuracies as well as creating fictional composites of real-life characters (notably Sherif Ali and Mr Dryden). However, it is beautifully shot and played, and well deserves to be described as one of the greatest films of the past fifty years.

Omar Sharif was in attendance at the film, and although he stated that David Lean wanted Ali to be played by an actor who was Arab/pass for Arab, Alain Delon had a successful screen test for the part and only dropped out because he didn’t want to wear brown contact lenses. As for the part of Lawrence himself, Albert Finney was first choice, with others being considered before Peter O’Toole was cast in his first film role.

Aside from O’Toole and Sharif, who were catapulted to international stardom following their appearances in this film, ‘Lawrence’ also boasts Alec Guinness as the Arab Prince Faisal; Anthony Quinn as Auda abi Tayi, a volatile Arab leader; Claude Rains as Mr Dryden, a government official; and a brief but memorable role from José Ferrer as the sadistic Turkish Bey. There are no female speaking roles, and much of the film is dominated by the beautiful score (by Maurice Jarre), and the huge desert vistas photographed by Freddie Young. The editor was Anne Coates, who was also at this screening, declaring the production was ‘fun’ to work on.

This restoration of ‘Lawrence’ is highly recommended and runs at the BFI Southbank for several weeks following the close of the festival.

The 1940 Mayfair production of Rodgers and Hart’s musical ‘The Boys From Syracuse’ runs 75 minutes in contrast to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and its 222 minutes. Starring Allan Jones, Irene Hervey, Rosemary Lane, Joe Penner, Martha Raye, and Charles Butterworth, the original source (Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’) is moved to ancient Greece, with a 1940s vibe and a large dose of comedy.

The songs ‘Sing for Your Supper’, ‘Who Are You?’, ‘Falling in Love With Love’, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, and ‘He and She’ are typical Rodgers and Hart, funny, romantic, and memorable. Martha Raye as Luce is all pep and energy, while Joe Penner’s schtick, although dated, fits the new Dromios. Allan Jones and Irene Hervey, real-life spouses, play the stuffy Antipholos of Ephesus and his wife Adriana; while Jones doubles as Antipholos of Syracuse, an altogether more relaxed character, who pursues Lane’s Phyllis, sister to Adriana. Butterworth’s dour Duke (whose guard have a running gag habit of playing a trumpet fanfare whenever he passes through a door) is fun, while Alan Mowbray and the peerless Eric Blore play quarrelling, comic tailors who need money to keep themselves out of jail.

Desire Under The Elms (Lyric Hammersmith)

Eugene O’Neill’s 1924 play ‘Desire Under The Elms’, set in New England and using themes of Greek tragedy to destroy a family, is given a strong revival here at the unusual Main House of the Lyric, Hammersmith (which is a rebuilt Victorian theatre within a 1970s concrete block).

Simeon and Peter run their father’s farm and lament their lot – but seem to lack the energy to do anything about it. Their half-brother Eben is treated worse than a slave and simmers with resentment at the way father and sons treated his mother. And when word comes that the old man has married for a third time, it is the first step in a life-changing situation for everyone. The older sons seek gold in California, while Eben is left to the mercy of Abbie, forty years younger than her new husband, sexually frustrated, bored, and horny as hell.

Not one character in this boiling pot is sympathetic. Abbie has no real feelings and swings between love and hate alarmingly, while heading blindly to her own destruction. Eben appears selfless but is dominated by the memory of his ‘Ma’ and chewed up with hatred of his ‘Pa’. Simeon and Peter, who are not seen in the second half of the play, are coarse farm-hands, with wild dreams. The father himself, the coldly religious Ephraim should gain our interest but he is selfish and hard to his ‘soft’ sons, and so deserves all he gets.

The Lyric’s set is simple, with three buildings moved around by costumed stage-hands, and a guitar player to set the musical mood. This ‘Desire’ sparkles, with Finbar Lynch’s Ephraim and Denise Gough’s Abbie being the stand out performances. Even after nearly ninety years this play doesn’t feel as if its message is dated. Recommended.

Hold Tight! a tribute to Dave Dee

Dave Dee (1941-2009) was perhaps best known as the lead singer of 60s pop band ‘Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’ who take the crown for the silliest of all band names from the era. He was not just one of our best live performers but also a record industry manager, a former policeman, and a respected magistrate in Cheshire and London.

Born David John Harman on 17th December 1941 in Salisbury, the police cadet turned budding musician attended at Eddie Cochran’s fatal accident in 1960, and taught himself to play guitar on Cochran’s Gretsch while it was impunded at the local station. By 1962 he had started his first group, Dave Dee and the Bostons, who were a comedy-music act. By 1966 this had evolved into the chart-topping quintet who produced such hits as Bend It, Hold Tight, Zabadak, Don Juan, and The Legend of Xanadu, which lasted until Dee left to go solo in 1969.

As an A&R man at WEA Records, Dave Dee can be credited as part discover of such acts as AC/DC, the Heavy Metal Kids, and Boney M. By 1985 the revival circuit beckoned and his taste for perfoming has returned – with the Heroes and Villains concert in London set up with many of the Dozies’ peers on the bill to raise money for the charity Nordoff-Robbins, which Dee co-founded. Watching this concert on video (also featuring Mud, The Merseybeats, The Equals, Chris Farlowe, The Tremeloes, Tommy Bruce, The Nashville Teens, and many more) it crackles with the energy with Dee and other groups and performers of the time would bring to the Solid Silver 60s circuit through the next couple of decades.

Was Dave Dee a great singer? I think he was – in the 90s he recorded a cover of Oasis’ song ‘Look Back in Anger’ which almost exceeded the original. Even in his last few months he recorded songs including a medley of Everly Brothers songs and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven teamed with The Who’s Pinball Wizard and sounded perhaps better than he had in his prime during the 1960s. As a live performer he was a class act who combined a sense of fun with true professionalism. I will always keep happy memories of singing those silly songs like Zabadak live with their creators!

The Dozies were fashion icons and appeared on all the great music shows of the time – including Top of the Pops and the German equivalents Beat Beat Beat, and Beat Club (which Dee co-presented for a while, and also fronted compilations of in the 1990s for British television). When they returned, perhaps the fashions were a bit more conservative, and Beaky and Mick changed personnel over the years, but there is no other Justice of the Peace who spent his mature years wielding a whip on stage singing about the black barren land of Xanadu!

Dave Dee passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer in January 2009, not that long after yet another successful nostalgia tour. There’s been quite a hole in the revival circuit ever since.

The rescue of the ‘Hitchcock 9’

For the past couple of years, the British Film Institute has been involved in a major project to restore all of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent films, and over the past three months these have been premiered with new scores across London. I previously reported on The Pleasure Garden at the Wilton Music Hall, and since then I have caught up with a further three restorations at the BFI Southbank.

First up was Downhill, starring Ivor Novello, Isabel Jeans, and Ian Hunter, from the play by Novello and Constance Collier. A rather mature Novello gets expelled from school when he takes the blame for a shopgirl’s pregnancy (his friend is the one responsible), and we follow his descent (and ascent, and descent) literally from rugby ace and head boy to chorus boy, gigolo, and destitute beggar before the inevitable happy ending as the film comes to a close. Hitchcock used stairs and escalators to represent the descent of his leading man. Jeans plays the flighty and two-faced actress who only throws herself at Novello when he improbably inherits money from a distant relation. She and her fancy man soon work through this money and our hero is left again to fend for himself. This film has previously been badly served in DVD releases – its inclusion in ‘Hitchcock – The British Years’ presented the film without a soundtrack, while a substandard print appeared on a release in Greece. Now it looks approximately as the director must have intended, tints and all. I didn’t see the version with the ‘beatbox’ score, but rather a more sedate but enjoyable one from John Sweeney.

Next was Easy Virtue, again with Jeans in the lead, but this time suffering from the loss of an original negative which means ‘restoration’ is not quite of a quality which could be broadcast or easily watched. The elusive twenty minutes which seems to be missing when comparing the original running time and the one it has now has not been located, and so this adaptation of Noel Coward’s play is simply good – but not great. The inter-titles have however been redone and look pristine. This film has not looked as appealing as this for a long time, regardless of it still having the feel of squinting through the fog, and Stephen Horne’s piano accompaniment was a suitably classy side dish.

The final film of the three I watched was The Ring, which showcases the ill-fated Lilian Hall-Davis, the Danish actor/singer Carl Brisson, and Ian Hunter (again – he also makes an appearance in Easy Virtue). Perhaps one of Hitch’s greatest silents, and his first from an original screenplay rather than a published or performed source, this story of many rings – a boxing ring, a wedding ring, a bracelet – sparkled with the jazz score of the Soweto Kinch Sextet, which fitted perfectly with the action, which revolves around a rivalry for the top in the boxing ring, and for the girl. This film is lively, and Hall-Davis in particular is a delight to watch.


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