Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Complete Adrian Mole (Network)

Adrian Mole: The Complete Series [DVD] – buy from Amazon.

adrian-mole-the-complete-seriesNetwork catalogue no: 7953736.  2 disc set.  Released 2/7/12.

I have fond memories of both the Adrian Mole series from their first transmission in the 1980s.  However until this DVD was released in 2012 I had not seen either series for over twenty-five years.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4  was shown from September 1985, with The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole following in May 1987.  Although Gian Sammarco appeared in both series, there was a casting change relating to Mole’s mother Pauline: in the original series, she was played by Julie Walters, but was portrayed by Lulu in the later series.  Surprisingly this change did not hurt the show in any way.

The theme song ‘Profoundly in Love With Pandora’ by Ian Dury was indicative of the time, and Sue Townsend’s books were done proud by these adaptations which pull out the quiet comedy and pathos of growing up as an 80s teenager.


The Trouble with Harry, 1955 – ★★★½

#12 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

Expect the ‘unexpected’ from Hitchcock, goes the tagline, and this gentle comedy-mystery certainly takes a step away from the thrillers, crime stories, and psychodramas Hitchcock had been working on up to now, and in moving backwards through his work this is the first light-hearted film I have encountered.

It’s Shirley MacLaine’s debut, and she is delightful, while Edmund ‘Kris Kringle’ Gwenn is a hoot as the man who thinks he has killed the eponymous Harry, who lies dead while no one seems to care.

This is a film with a vibe of weirdness, a departure in style for its director, with packed sets, rich peripheral characters, and little moments that have nothing to do with Harry, but which keep us entertained.

This film is an example of one which would probably never be made now – there’s no violence to speak of, even though a man is dead, and no gratuitous sex, just a good and witty script (by John Michael Hayes), a glorious VistaVision palette, and a score which is at odds with what we see (for example, when an artist is making a sketch, and even draws Harry’s stockinged feet, without realising at first there is a body there).

If Hitch had directed Twin Peaks, it might have turned out something like this.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Rope, 1948 – ★★★½

#20 in Reverse Hitchcock project.

Patrick Hamilton’s play is here brought to the screen with limited takes and locations in one of Hitchcock’s experiments, this time with long takes and no mystery: we see the murder done in the first minute, and we know exactly where the body is hidden.

Farley Granger and John Dall are the students who kill their classmate for being inferior to them: their big idea is then to hold a party in the apartment with the dead man’s friends and family, and their old tutor (James Stewart).

Granger is more nervy and worried, Dall more steely but clearly aroused by his work, their victim ‘merely occupied space’. And so he occupies space in an unlocked trunk while guests socialise around him, and until Stewart rumbles the ruse and discovers the corpse.

Simulating one long take (but instead three or four edited together), ‘Rope’ is necessarily slowed by the need to ensure the camera can follow the action without cross-cutting – using lots of open doors and large rooms, but the tension is still there.

It’s the same kind of plot as an episode of Columbo, where we as viewers know the villain from the start, but done rather well.with an ending which would be echoed in part in ‘Dial M For Murder’ a few years later, with the ending depending on something being left and found.

In terms of the real-life story which inspired this, you might wish to watch ‘Compulsion’ (1959) which gives the murder a different slant – the real story, though, was of gay lovers who kill a child for kicks, which was perhaps too strong meat even for Hitchcock in the censorious 1940s.

A clever film which might work best on a first viewing, and this rewatch in the context of other Hitch films loses this one half a star. Much to enjoy, but there are finer works in the canon.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre)

This is the version of Wilde’s play which is being publicised heavily because of the casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, and if this feels like stunt casting (it isn’t really, he isn’t the first man to put on the dress and give the immortal handbag line), I’m pleased to say it has paid off.

A sparking comedy of manners, this production by Adrian Noble, former RSC artistic director, sizzles with energy and benefits from an excellent pair of performances from newcomer Emily Barber as Gwendolyn and the hilarious mugger Imogen Doel as Cecily.

Playing as broadly as the script allows, their garden scene is a hoot and Barber’s reaction to the marriage proposal in Act One is hugely entertaining.  Doel’s Cecily is a fiery child not to be trifled with, and her clumsy flirting is seriously scary!

As the two gentlemen who use deceit to enable themselves to have good times, Michael Benz as Jack and Philip Cumbus (last seen in the Trafalgar Studio Richard III as Richmond) as Algy are thoroughly modern chaps who fight over muffins and become lovelorn at the slightest opportunity.

Michele Dotrice and Richard O’Callagan are a fine Prism and Chasuble, a veritable comedy team fairly quivering with unsuppressed attraction.  In their hands the final reconciliation ‘at last’ is believeable, and her twittering delight at the prospect of a stroll is hilarious.

This leaves us with Suchet’s Lady B.  His is a frightful caricature, with exaggerated expressions and reactions which liven up her first interrogation of Jack in particular, with the slow opening of the black book, the shudder of distate about railway stations, and the look of distain she gives her daughter’s intended suitor.  It’s a performance which is just a step back from the pantomime dame, but it richly mines the comic potential of this greatest of female characterisations.

In Act Three his return bodes a change from the ‘gorgon’ to something softer, as this Aunt Augusta has a past of poverty and a marriage based on money, not love, and there may be just a little bit of regret when all ends happily without a thought for her, an essentially nouveau riche vulgar harridan whose exaggeration comes out of insecurity.

It’s an interesting take on the story in a production which is not perfect, but which is effortlessly entertaining, from David Killick’s snipey Lane through to Brendan Hooper’s Merriman (which an air of resignation whether ordering a dog cart or serving cake at tea).

Ealing Comedy Festival opening night

A mixed bag of acts to open the Walpole Park’s festival, but overall a decent night out.

Julian Clary headlining the first night was bound to pull in the crowds and so this first night was a sellout, and definitely from the older end of the spectrum.

Delivering a typically smutty set as expected, Clary shared a long shaggy dog story about how he saved Joan Collins’ life, by way of noting his ageing ailments (policeman’s heel, housemaid’s knee, and male prostitute’s rectum: ‘gentlemen callers have been temporarily blinded’) and talking about his domestic arrangements in Kent with boyfriend Rolf – who has a boring office job and understands how to work an enema kit.

Looking great under the eyeliner and red lipstick it is impossible to believe Julian has hit fifty-six, but age hasn’t tempered his sweetly – delivered guy puns, and it was a delight to see him and his final song of ‘Frankie and Johnny’, of civil partners where one couldn’t help but stray.

Supporting acts Justin Moorhouse – a funny fat lad from Blackpool who started well but wandered into slightly weird territory – and irritatingly middle – class Shabbi Khorsandi  (who overstayed her welcome) were complimented by Geordie  exile Mickey Hutton,  who hasn’t been living up north for twenty – five years but still has an act which pokes fun at the London he calls home.

The Trial (Young Vic)

I am familiar with Kafka’s novel about the mysterious Josef K and his unexplained arrest, with a claustrophobic series of locations and larger than life characters populating this piece of absurdist fiction.  Theatrical adaptations have been problematic, notably the production by Steven Berkoff back in the 1970s (which did get a sense of both the absurd and the ever diminishing sets).

Fast-forward to 2015 and this new adaptation by Nick Gill, directed by Richard Jones, and I really don’t know what to make of it.  Once you are admitted into the Young Vic’s auditorium, as an audience member you sit in the reconfigured stalls in a jury bench setting on either side of the stage, which is initially presented as a large red box with a keyhole in the top, lifting once the show starts to display a travelator on which cast members walk, kneel, thrash around, etc.

Locations do not feel small or cramped in any way, and are restricted to K’s flat (and his neighbour Rosa’s), K’s place of work at the bank, lawyer Miss Grace’s house, and various areas of the court.  There are doubling up on characters (with Kate O’Flynn convincing across six roles), but really the stand-out performance is that of Rory Kinnear as Josef K who must be absolutely exhausted by a two-hour piece where he is never off-stage and has to work both physically and mentally hard throughout, due to Gill’s decision to put K’s interior monologues in a weird broken Pigdin kind of English, largely fixated on matters of sexual problems and (false?) memories from the past.

This aside, and some good supporting performances (Sian Thomas as Mrs Grace/Doctor, Richard Cant as Male Guard/Assistant/Tudor), I wasn’t sold on the changes that had been made to the original text – why change the portrait painter to a disco dancing tattooist?  That set, too, although intriguing at the start, wasn’t fully utilised, although having a moving walkway helping characters along (and holding them back) is fun.

Rear Window, 1954 – ★★★★

#14 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

This one is often classed as one of Hitch’s greatest films, being the first collaboration of four with John Michael Hayes as writer, and boasting a jaunty theme tune over the credits by Franz Waxman.

It opens on a set of interlinked apartments, where, in one window, we find a feverish James Stewart, and in another, a man listening to that Charles Atlas ‘men, are you over forty? do you have that listness feeling?’ ad. It’s an interlinked group of lives where voyeurs and voyeured co-exist.

Jeffries (Stewart) has a broken leg and so is stuck in the space with his memorabilia and his boredom. Small wonder that soon, very soon, he was start to see something in the window across, when he’s emerged from his ‘plaster cocoon’ and his ability to watch the pretty girl across the way doing her exercises. What a mucky old man our Jimmy is.

This film catches the interest within the first five minutes, which is quite a feat. Within the first ten, we meet so many different people with their own little pockets of existence, and eventually, we meet the glorious Thelma Ritter, and any film which has here as a character player has my interest (‘we’ve become a nation of peeping toms’). Her squeaky voice and her plain yet interesting face made her a recognisable figure in numerous showy roles.

It’s hot and sticky in this suite of apartments, and everyone has their windows open so snatches of music and conversation can be heard by our bored invalid, who seems disappointed when a newlywed couple pull down the shades!

Fifteen minutes in, and the luminous Grace Kelly as Lisa leans in to kiss Jimmy Stewart in slow-mo, and we know he’s not quite as lonely as we thought. Kelly looks fantastic in costumes by Edith Head, a stunning actress playing a stunning model. No surprise she quickly became a princess in real life.

‘Rear Window’ cleverly builds the audience interest and tension by having not that much happen to start with, but Jeffries’ eyes become our eyes and we start to see what he sees and react as he reacts – that’s clever film-making. The lonely lady who makes a place for two while her wireless crooner keeps her company is particularly poignant – we smile with her, we raise our glass, we feel her despondency at her empty table.

We keep being drawn back to Raymond Burr, though, just over the way, and the sense that not all is well in his apartment. After a scream, a lot of night departures, and other suspicious circumstances, our hero Jeffries starts to believe he has witnessed something close to murder. But will anyone believe him?

The sinister scene where Thorwald sits in the dark, quiet, when all hell breaks loose in the apartment block, tells us he might be a bad egg after all, far worse than Jeffries, who spies on his neighbours with cameras and binoculars, neighbours who are just trying to get on with their lives.

Just like cameras had a focal point in ‘Peeping Tom;, here they start to become central to the story of ‘Rear Window’. But the final sequences, where Jeffries nearly comes a cropper, and then the picture of domesticity with him and Lisa at the end, are classic Hitch.

I don’t think this is his best film, but it is clever, and contains a couple of strong performances from his close collaborators Stewart and Kelly, both of which probably did their best work for this director – he certainly got a couple of career best turns out of Stewart with this and with ‘Rope’.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Dial M for Murder, 1954 – ★★★½

#15 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

Frederick Knott’s stage play is very old-fashioned and faintly ridiculous, so the fact that this film, of which Knott wrote the screenplay, has a bit more flair and energy must be down to the director.

Tony (Ray Milland), a rather unconvincing former professional tennis player, has an unfaithful wife (Grace Kelly), who thinks he doesn’t know about her infidelity with an American writer (Robert Cummings). He’s icily polite to her as befits an English gentleman living in Maida Vale (the ‘M’ of the title), but he really wants to plan the perfect murder.

This mystery runs on latch-keys, a feckless fraudster turned assassin, and an incorrect telephone number. Kelly is not as coolly beautiful as she was in her other Hitchcock collaborations – she looks the part of a ’50s suburban housewife – but she has a moment to shine when the title’s murder does not quite work out as expected.

Cummings had worked for Hitch before, as the leading man of ‘Saboteur’ , but he’s better here, as a supporting player. Milland has a lovely scene where he blackmails the would-be killer just as if he is discussing the weather, while Anthony Dawson makes a fine desperado down on his luck who has been driven from stealing money to defrauding old ladies, to something far more sinister.

The would-be murder scene is scored with soaring music by Dimitri Tiomkin, and Kelly’s performance is quite excellent in this scene and the one immediately afterwards. Milland is also rather good, so whether Hitch brought out the best in his actors, or whether the editing process created the performances, they remain effective.

Filmed originally in 3-D, this has several ‘props in the foreground’ sequences but seeing it ‘flat’ doesn’t really detract from what is an entertaining, if light, entry in the director’s Canon. I’ve demoted it by half a star on this rewatch, but it is still a very good picture, and better than most of the time.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

I Confess, 1953 – ★★★½

#16 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

A minor Hitchcock to many, this murder thriller has the complication of the accused being a man of the cloth, the suitably angst-ridden Method actor Montgomery Clift, whose opulent church is the scene for a confession which may cause him problems later on.

No mystery in this one as the murderer is revealed within the first ten minutes, what follows is a psychological struggle of conscience on behalf of the priest who, even when under suspicion himself, cannot break the seal of the confessional. The shadowy opening where someone in priestly robes leaves the dead man leaves us in some doubt as to the solution.

This has a similar downbeat feel to ‘The Wrong Man’, in which Henry Fonda had been accused for robberies he had not done, but in this case the stakes are much higher. Clift’s Father Logan is on the side of God, but is God on his side?

It is possible that Hitch may have been irritated by his star’s insistence on the Method and his character’s motivation, but he gets a good performance out of his whether that was in the editing suite or in Clif’s devotion to his craft. Anne Baxter is second billed as Ruth (the former girlfriend of Logan’s before he took his vows) and his advocate when he is accused of the crime.

Karl Malden is the friendly but suspicious cop who initially falls for the real killer’s lies, but who eventually makes everything right – interesting that he subscribes to the fear of the priest, but not the fear of the foreign unknown.

I still like this film, but it loses half a star on this rewatch. There are cleverer and flashier titles in Hitch’s filmography, although this remains eminently watchable.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Strangers on a Train, 1951 – ★★★★½

#17 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

One of Hitchcock’s most realised classics, this ‘murder swap’ tale has been much parodied and mimicked since release, notably in the loose comedy remake ‘Throw Momma From The Train’ and in TV shows like ‘Columbo’.

Robert Walker, as psychopathic Bruno Anthony, gives his best performance here. A troubled soul in real life he was hard to cast effectively and aside from the Judy Garland romance ‘The Clock’ he has never really clicked with me on screen. Here he is the perfect example of chilling menace.

Farley Granger, as tennis star Guy Haines, wishing to be free of his nasty wife Miriam, is weaker and less decisive, not taking the proposed plot that seriously until Anthony takes their conversation further from a discussion to completion. Granger was not a great actor (although Hitch had used him before, in a similarly weak role, in ‘Rope’), but he does well enough here.

‘Strangers on a Train’ is full of sharp dialogue and show-off shots (the reflection in Miriam’s glasses, the nonchalant pop of a child’s balloon, the merry-go-round, the tennis match where just one head isn’t following the ball), and has a building sense of horror throughout.

I still class it as one of the director’s masterpieces and find it stands up well today.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Stage Fright, 1950 – ★★★

#18 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

A very British cast (Richard Todd, Joyce Grenfell, Michael Wilding, the wonderful, wonderful Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh) join Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman in this mystery thriller which starts strongly with a flashback concerning Todd and Dietrich and the death of her husband.

With a bloodstain on her skirt like a flower (that dress will reappear later, more prominently) the divine Miss D (who was around fifty at the time) exudes glamour under adversity; and when we realise she is an actress we realise she is naturally stagey and able to give a performance.

Sending Todd to go back to the house of death seems to be putting him in the frame, and that’s our first hint of unease. But he goes, and doesn’t just find her a new dress, he tries to hide evidence of the crime. There are stunning wardrobes fit for a queen. Then a scream, a maid, and a need to run.

I’m not convinced that Richard Todd cuts it as a Hitchcock leading man, much as I admire him in other roles. He doesn’t have the sense of urgency or debonair ease that characterises a Grant. As Dietrich’s lover he is frankly absurd while he never quite feels like a desperate man in danger. Compare this with The Wrong Man and you can see a difference, but these were small steps in the direction of the misaccused, which would resurface again in North by Northwest and Frenzy.

This, of all the Hitchcock canon, is the title which would work the best as a rather heightened melodrama, performed with a knowing slant by modern performers. It teeters on the edge of the ridiculous, even if it gets there by the idiocy of a man who puts love before common sense, and then compunds the error by going on the run.

If you view this film simply as hokum and fun, as it is, you will enjoy this. The first Mrs Reagan, Jane Wyman, is the faithful friend (the Midge of Vertigo, for example) who helps Todd evade the police by becoming Dietrich’s maid and exposing the truth, and she fits in well with her British co-stars and their eccentricity.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Under Capricorn, 1949 – ★★★★

#19 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

I’ve seen many lukewarm or downright negative reviews of this costume drama, but I think if it hadn’t been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it would be better regarded.

Michael Wilding is Charles Adare, an Irish gentleman who has little in the way of money who meets former convict Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten), a man with a secret, who married above his station to the now-alcoholic Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), a Lady who has known Wilding back in Ireland when he was a boy.

Margaret Leighton as house servant Millie manages to be even more vicious than Mrs Danvers, a poisonous little bitch who chides Cotten just as Iago did Othello. And so as Bergman tries to pull herself back into the society which shuns her husband, he in turn is consumed by jealousy.

Two sequences I particularly liked: one where Wilding whips off his coat as if it is Walter Raleigh’s cloak and drapes it over a window so Henrietta can see how beautiful she is in her reflection; the other where Flusky holds a necklace of rubies behind his back as a surprise for his wife at a critical point in the plot.

Only some of the musical flourishes and long takes betray the Master’s touch, but this is a strange exercise for him to undertake: still, in a decent print the colours and composition of cinematography shine through (Jack Cardiff’s touch, reminiscent of his work a couple of years earlier on ‘Black Narcissus’ for The Archers).

Joseph Cotten (miscast as Flusky, to see this character brought to life watch John Hallam’s portrayal in the later TV movie) dismissed this film as ‘Corny Crap’, while Ingrid Bergman’s personal scandal when she ran away with Roberto Rossellini hurt both critical and commercial reactions to this film.

Wilding, at this point not yet ensnared by Hollywood or Elizabeth Taylor, is fine as the impoverished gentleman, while Leighton’s viper of a maid (Leighton would eventually wed Wilding, in 1964, after unsuccessul marriages to Max Reinhardt and Laurence Harvey) is excellent.

Hitch himself disowned it in later life, but I can’t help feeling he was wrong, as what shows on the screen is a vibrant drama with a strong performance from Bergman.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

The Beaux’ Stratagem (National Theatre)

This farcical Restoration comedy by George Farquhar is given new breath and life in Simon Godwin’s production from the Olivier Theatre at the National, with vibrant music by Michael Bruce and stomping yet laconic dances from principal cast members.

Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer are dissolute beaux seeking to meet ladies of fortune with intentions of marriage for money; with this plan in mind they alight at Boniface’s inn where they plot for Aimwell (under the borrowed guise of his brother’s title and fortune) to court the unmarried daughter of Lady Bountiful.

In the meantime Archer flirts with the innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry, and also the unhappily married Mrs Sullen, whose husband is a miserable drunk and libertine.  In this second endeavour he is assisted by the wonderfully emotionless and dry servant to the Bountiful household, Scrub, who welcomes him as a brother in bondage.

No big names clog this ensemble cast, but Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfeild are good as the beaux (especially Streatfeild, who is cajoled to sing and dance), Pearce Quigley is quite marvellous as Scrub (a wet rag with the last drop wrung from him), and Susannah Fielding effortlessly engages the interest and sympathy of the audience in the injustice of her miserable marriage.  Pippa Bennett-Warner is a dreamer as Dorinda, still expecting true love (with a title, place and position), and Jane Booker is amusing enough as the Lady Dowager who fancies herself a healer.

Happy Thoughts, Darling

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