Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Double Life, 1947 – ★★½

“You wanna put out the light?”

I haven’t seen this for a long time, but it was sitting on my Sky+, and I have been watching a lot of Shakespeare related material lately, so I thought it was time to revisit.

This was the role for which Ronald Colman won a leading man Oscar as the actor who is such a method player he lets the role of Othello drive him to murder.

It’s a noirish concept which is directed well by George Cukor, but it is such a nonsense in its construction that despite a fine scene half way through, as Tony (Colman) wanders through shadowed streets with Iago’s voice in his head and staccato violins on the soundtrack, it loses its way.

Shelley Winters has an early role as the actor’s unfortunate mistress, a slinky blonde in a silky nightgown. Colman’s jealousy and insanity drives him to do a terrible thing, but it doesn’t ring true, and I am sorry to say that what passed as award-winning material back then looks suspiciously like overacting now.

In all conscience, I can’t raise this one’s rating.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Show Boat (New London Theatre)

Captain Andy’s Show Boat, the Cotton Blossom, has come to town in Daniel Evans’ fabulous production (fresh from Sheffield), and the classic socre by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II sounds as a sharp and as tuneful as ever.  There’s plenty of wit and life in this production, which has a small but hard-working cast, with some notably outstanding work from Sandra Marvin (Queenie), Rebecca Trehearn (Julie), Emmanuel Kojo (Joe) and Alex Young (Ellie May Chipley).

Young Magnolia Hawks (Gina Beck) lives on the Cotton Blossom with her parents, and while the Captain (Malcolm Sinclair) lives for showbusiness, mother Parthy (Lucy Briers) sees herself a cut above the river rats and players she has been living alongside for years, and wants something better for her daughter.  Magnolia wants nothing more than to be a leading lady, and to fall in love, and when Gaylord Ravenal (Chris Peluso) turns up, all charm in his sharp suit, she finds the latter, and in a powerful sequence where Julie has to leave the show boat, finds she suddenly has the chance to become the star.

This musical premiered in the USA in 1927, and was the first modern musical to move away from the conventions of vaudeville and operetta; it also dealt with racial issues with a vibrant mixed cast.  If you’ve seen the 1936 film with the feted bass singer Paul Robeson as Joe you will know that any singer has big shoes to fill with ‘Old Man River’, but Kojo is excellent here in both that huge number and (a delight to see) the fun duet with Queenie which was written for the film, ‘Ah Still Suits Me’.

Go on, have a look at that number as it appeared in the film, here:

Julie La Verne is a tragic figure, which Trehearn catches very well.  Her exuberance leading the kitchen staff in the negro song ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine’ gives way in the second half to her touching delivery of ‘Bill’ (not an original song for the show, it was written by Kern with PG Wodehouse back in 1917 for another production, but never used).

Here’s Trehearn performing the number:

Julie gives two big chances to Magnolia, making her the kindest heart on the river.  Magnolia and Gay fall in love as they play opposite each other (they have first felt attraction through ‘Make Believe’ at their first meeting), and although they have a child and settle in Chicago, his gambling and drinking is his downfall, and she is left to make her own way in the world.

The Trocadero scene loses something here by having no sense of a packed New Year’s Eve: instead, actors playing waiters and punters are scattered through the auditorium, giving us a sense of being the exclusive audience there as 1899 gives way to 1900.  Beck’s singing of ‘After the Ball’ is eventually gutsy and triumphant, and the song remains sentimental enough to bring a tear to the eye, but it doesn’t touch the sequence )one of my favourites) in the 1952 film.

Beck reminded me very much of Irene Dunne (the 1936 Magnolia) in her acting, she is a mischievous little flirt in her innocence and a regal miss in her poverty.  It’s a strong performance; while Peluso is excellent as Gay and in fine voice.  Leo Roberts plays Steven Baker and Jim Greene (in the later role resembling the early talkie singer, John Boles, which was interesting, if a little distracting!).  As the Hawks’ senior, Sinclair is an excellent Andy, winking connivingly at the audience as he gets one over on his wife, while Briers is a marvellous Parthy, steering the part away from the comic shrew she is so often reduced to.

The second half, following the chimes for the new century, fast-forwards through nearly thirty years before we meet the aged Joe and Queenie, and she leads the chorus in a blistering version of the feel-good ‘Hey Feller!’.  It’s a problematic ending, but there is no true reconciliation between the returning Gay and the strong Magnolia, who has raised their daughter alone.  The hurt and the distance was well conveyed, and if the adult Kim runs to forgive her father, the mother might find it much harder.

Here’s Gay and Magnolia in happier times, courtesy of the 1951 film, and that first duet of ‘Make Believe’:

Go and see this show if at all possible.  It is closing in August, and it is probably one of the best shows in town right now.  It will make you smile, tap your feet, and maybe even cry just a little.  Not bad for a musical which is approaching its ninetieth birthday.


Some Like It Hot, 1959 – ★★★★★

Nobody’s perfect! quips Joe E Brown’s randy millionaire at the end of this comedy classic.

It has it all – a superb pair of comedy performances from Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as the men who witness a massacre on St Valentine’s Day and have to go on the run as part of a girl dance band. Lemmon in particular shines throughout.

It has Marilyn Monroe at her most vulnerable as Sugar Kane, not very bright and addicted to bourbon and saxophone players.

It has George Raft as Spats the gangster, sending up his earlier films and coin tossing: ‘where did you learn that cheap trick?’.

It even has an Eve Arden clone as Sweet Sue the bandleader, always a bit suspicious of the new bass fiddle and sax players.

It’s basically an absolute joy, from Curtis and his Cary Grant impersonation to the joy of the tango to that glorious Monroe wiggle.

And there are songs too, notably ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ and ‘I’m Through With Love’.

A five star, gold plated, goodie.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Network DVD anthology releases #2

The second anthology set I’ll be taking a look at from Network is the twelve disc set released last year to celebrate 60 years of ITV.

Each disc is programmed to represent a typical evening’s viewing, although the earliest title dates from 1955, an episode of ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, with the latest programme being an episode of ‘Soldier, Soldier’ from 1994.

The audience for this set is unclear: there are many episodes of series which have been seperately released, with only ten items unique to this collection.  Having said that, the variety here is excellent, and the handful of items from the days of Associated-Rediffussion are well-chosen.

Here’s what is included in this voyage though the first thirty-nine years of ITV:

Disc 1

  • ITV Opening Night Preview (Associated-Rediffusion and ABC), 1955
  • Thunderbirds: Trapped in the Sky, 1965.  A fairly routine example of Gerry Anderson’s puppet series
  • The Army Game: April Fool, 1960.  Painfully dated barracks comedy
  • Man About The House: While the Cat’s Away, 1974.  Fun and games with Robin and his co-lodgers and the Ropers
  • Robin of Sherwood: The Greatest Enemy, 1985.  Michael Praed’s farewell to the role
  • The Prisoner: Checkmate, 1967.  Impenetrable tale already included on the previous ITC50 collection

Disc 2

  • Pathfinders in Space: Convoy to the Moon, 1960.  Sci-fi drama for children
  • The Larkins: Frightful Nightful, 1960.  Things go bump in the night for our comic couple
  • Sunday Night at the London Palladium, 1965.  In which Sid James sings!
  • The World at War: It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow, 1974.  Focusing on Burma, this is a typical episode of the groundbreaking documentary series
  • Callan: Let’s Kill Everybody, 1969.  Tensions rise as a spy sets to eliminate the enem

Disc 3

  • Catweazle: The Sun in a Bottle, 1970.  Series opener
  • The Arthur Haynes Show, 1962.  Included for a short appearance from Michael Caine, this has some good sketches and items
  • The Avengers: The Winged Avenger, 1967.  Emma Peel in comic-book land
  • Public Eye: My Life’s My Own, 1969.  Downbeat episode featuring a young Stephanie Beecham
  • An Audience with Dame Edna Everage, 1980.  Fun with a starry audience, many long since gone

Disc 4

  • Crossroads, October 1983.  Absolutely terrible but previously unreleased
  • On the Buses: The Strain, 1971.  Amusement as Stan has to wear a surgical corset
  • The Saint: The Contract, 1965.  A typical episode
  • The Tommy Cooper Hour, 1974.  Featuring the Sally the Sailor sketch
  • Auf Wiedershen Pet: The Alien, 1984.  Michael Elphick causes trouble for the gang

Disc 5

  • Rainbow, December 1975.  Ali Bongo joins the regulars at Christmas.  Previously unreleased
  • Pipkins: Cowboys, 1977.  Pip goes bad!
  • Doctor in the House: What Seems to be the Trouble?, 1970.  Early episode showcasing the student doctors
  • The Power Game: The New Boy, 1965.  The opening episode of the boardroom drama
  • 21, 1977.  Otherwise known as 21 Up, the third entry in the Michael Apted series following a group of children from the age of seven onwards

Disc 6

  • Magpie, November 1976.  A mixed bag from the children’s series which was ITV’s answer to Blue Peter
  • Shut That Door!, 1972.  The sole surviving example of Larry Grayson’s variety show
  • Space:1999: Breakaway, 1975.  Nuclear problems hit Moonbase Alpha
  • No Hiding Place: A Bird to Watch the Marbles, 1963.  One of just over twenty surviving episodes from the long-running police series, previously unreleased
  • The Sweeney: Tomorrow Man, 1976.  An episode of the fondly-regarded series about Special Branch

Disc 7

  • Tiswas, August 1975.  Edited version without all the inserts, this features Jon Asher as presenter and is very different to the later episodes we all remember.  Previously unreleased
  • Four Feather Falls: Horse Thieves, 1960.  Nicholas Parsons voices the cowboy in this early Gerry Anderson series
  • The Stanley Baxter Moving Picture Show, 1974.  Comic sketches and music in this dated showcase from the Scots variety performance
  • Gideon’s Way: The Wall, 1965.  A rather dark episode from the detective show with John Gregson
  • Tales of the Unexpected: Royal Jelly, 1980.  Buzzzzzzz

Disc 8

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood: The Coming of Robin Hood, 1955.  Series opener
  • Nearest and Dearest: What Seems to be the Trouble?, 1969.  Dated fun with Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel
  • Rising Damp: Black Magic, 1974.  Philip charms the birds
  • Mystery Bag: Lockhart Finds a Note, 1959.  A second look at Chief Inspector Lockhart, previously unreleased
  • Upstairs Downstairs: Miss Forrest, 1973.  A key episode from the period drama series
  • Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, 1979.  Hard-hitting expose of the Khmer Rouge from John Pilger

Disc 9

  • Ace of Wands: Peacock Pie – Episode One, 1972.  This already appeared on a Look Back volume.  Frustrating not be able to complete the story of Brian Wilde’s creepy hypnotist
  • Coronation Street, May 1964.  Excellent episode following the death of Martha Longhurst
  • Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): Could You Recognise the Man Again?, 1970.  Mrs Hopkirk is in trouble, and Marty has to try to help her
  • Crane: A Cargo of Cornflower, 1965.  Smugglers ahoy in one of the two surviving episodes from this series.  Extremely poor sound by the way, and previously unreleased
  • Soldier Soldier: Stormy Weather, 1994.  Problems for Robson Green and his wife

Disc 10

  • A Fine Romance: Series 2, Episode 6, 1982.  Nice but rather lame comedy with Judi Dench and Michael Williams
  • World in Action: The Chart Busters, 1980.  Record pluggers who influence the Top 40.  Previously unreleased
  • The Professionals: Blind Run, 1978.  Bodie and Doyle turn bodyguard in an entertaining episode
  • Inspector Morse: Driven to Distraction, 1990.  An episode which has been made available many times before, but doesn’t quite suffer from over-exposure

Disc 11

  • George and Mildred: Moving On, 1976.  The Ropers go house-hunting
  • Jason King: To Russia With … Panache, 1971.  Repeated from the ITC50 set
  • The Main Chance: The Best Legal System in the World, 1970.  Series opener
  • Justice: A Nice Straight-forward Treason, 1971.  Margaret Lockwood as the glamorous Harriet in Chambers
  • The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode One, 1960.  Anthony Newley’s inventive comedy series

Disc 12

  • Our Man at St Mark’s: The Facts of Life, 1963.  Leslie Phillips plays a sympathetic vicar in one of a handful of surviving episodes – previously unreleased
  • The Bill: The Short Straw, 1993.  Viv regrets being late for work in this previously unreleased episode
  • Man at the Top: I’ll Do the Dirty Work, 1971.  Joe Lampton gets his hands dirty in this TV series sequel to the classic film, Room at the Top
  • Whicker’s World Aboard The Orient Express, 1983.  Practically a commercial for the train service, and previously unreleased
  • Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph, 1962.  There are so few of these officially released, I would have swapped for one which isn’t already on one of Network’s sets, although this is a very good example of the play strand

In summary, and especially now prices have dropped considerably from the initial RRP, this is worth your time if you wish to see a range of ITV product in one place, or want to sample some wider releases like The Power Game, Justice and The Main Chance without investing in the full series.  However the selection could have included more single plays, more period drama, and some more unfamiliar titles.

 


Network DVD anthology releases #1

I’ve been dipping into the anthology releases from Network recently, which collate a number of related programmes together in what might be described as ‘samples’ of full series.

This series of posts will look at seven such releases:

  • Soap Box Volume 1
  • ITV60
  • ITC50
  • Look-Back on 70s Telly (4 volumes)

Soap Box (2011)

Despite being badged ‘volume 1’ it seems unlikely that there will be a further set after five years has elapsed; still, this is a reasonable collection of both daytime and evening soaps produced across ITV.

Over four discs we move from the sole surviving episode of hospital drama ‘Call Oxbridge 2000’ from 1961, through to a 2006 ‘disaster’ episode of ‘Emmerdale’, which, when compared to an episode from thirty years before – when the series was still ‘Emmerdale Farm’ – shows clearly the decline of both focus and writing of one of Yorkshire TV’s most enduring soaps; although it is good to see both Ken Farringdon and Jenny Tomasin in the cast.

From the 1960s we have episodes of ‘Parkin’s Patch’, a police drama; ‘Weaver’s Green’, about a vet; an atypical episode of ‘Emergency: Ward 10’; and ‘Market in Honey Lane’, which makes an interesting comparison to ‘Albion Market’ which also appears here.

Although ‘Coronation Street’ started in the 1960s, the two episodes featured here are both from 1977 – one where Tracy is in peril, and the famous one about Annie Walker and the new carpet.  Well-written, these are an interesting contrast to episodes which can be found on the ‘ITV60’ and ‘Jack Rosenthal at ITV’ sets.  ‘Rooms’, about lodgers and bedsitters, is a bit disappointing; but both ‘The Cedar Tree’ and ‘Marked Personal’ are well worth watching.  The aforementioned episode of ‘Emmerdale Farm’ is something of an odd choice, dealing with a family tragedy right at the end; while from 1972 ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Harriet’s Back in Town’ were worth revisiting.

Into the 1980s there is an episode of ‘Crossroads’, which hasn’t aged well; the opener of ‘From Maddie With Love’, which is well overdue a full release; ‘The Practice’, yet another medical drama, has good production values but is largely forgettable; ‘Gems’ has a bit of sparkle; and the short-lived ‘Albion Market’ shows it might have had legs if allowed to grow.

The 1990s episodes are from ‘Families’, ‘London Bridge’, and ‘Revelations’, all now largely forgotten, and the set is rounded off by the 25th anniversary edition of ‘The Bill’, a live episode which I last saw at the BFI Southbank with cast members including the late Bernie Nolan sitting behind us.  It’s bordering on the hysterical and compares weakly to earlier episodes which can be found elsewhere.

If you like the genre of ‘soap opera’ in its loosest sense you will find much to enjoy here, and it is a varied collection of titles from the various ITV companies, with six examples from Granada, seven from ATV; five from Thames; three from Yorkshire; and one each from Anglia and Carlton.

Network have released ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Emmerdale Farm’ and ‘Crossroads’ extensively, and there are also some releases of available of ‘Emergency: Ward 10’, ‘General Hospital’, ‘Parkin’s Patch’, ‘Market in Honey Lane’, ‘The Cedar Tree’, ‘London Bridge’, ‘The Bill’ and ‘Revelations’.

 

 


The Magic Flute (Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer)

The Royal Festival Hall hosted a one-night stop on the current international tour of ‘The Magic Flute’, performed in German with dialogue in English.  Ivan Fischer conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra with flair, and it was good to see them all obviously enjoying making the most of Mozart’s dazzling score.

In a company of mostly young principals, the soprano Mandy Fredrich navigated the Queen of the Night’s fiendish arias and bursts of coloratura with ease, while Krisztián Cser‘s young and vital bass Sarastro gives a different frisson to his interaction with the imprisoned Pamina (Hanna-Elisabeth Müller).  As Papageno, Hanno Müller-Brachmann‘s bass-baritone fits perfectly with his ridiculous yet lonely bird characterisation, and the scene near the close with his Papagena (Norma Nahoun), leaves a smile on the face.

This is a semi-staged performance, but the use of a video storybook to display the characters as well as the translation.  Actors perform the dialogue for all the major roles and Bart van der Schaff was particularly amusing as Papageno.  The switch between languages worked well and made the opera rather more accessible than a fully German version would be.

Ultimately this is a glorious piece of work, even if the text is rather misogynous in tone, referring to the subjection and inferiority of women – although, as Pamina joins her true love, Tamino (Bernard Richter) in the trials of fire and ice, she would seem to be as strong as any man.

 

 


Book review: The Wacky Man

wacky man

From the Legend Press website:

“Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel.  Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on. She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.”

“The Wacky Man” is by no means a comfortable read.  Its story of Amanda (part drawn from the author’s real life) is one of a disturbed and damaged young woman who rages against her mother, her situation, and sad of all, herself (she smashes mirrors which reflect her ‘pig’ face, she hides her face under her hair so people do not look at her, she classes herself as ugly even when we hear in other parts of the book about what a beautiful child she was).

Amanda’s father, Seamus, is brutal, unfeeling and systematically tyrannical around his wife and children.  His abrasive manner and distorted way of showing a connection or affection for his children through violence (a social worker asks a young Amanda ‘do you love your daddy?’ and she replies ‘yes, but I don’t think he loves me’) is hard to stomach, but he is in no way presented as a monster.  This is a book which gives its characters a fully-rounded approach, and in doing so, makes them believable.

Aside from the chapters which have Amanda’s account of her life in the 1st person, we also have chapters which look in from the outside, including her mother Barbara, who was trapped into marriage with Seamus after a drunken sexual romp which led to him wanting to ‘do the right thing’.  These give a different perspective on the woman who, we might feel when reading the daughter’s account, has failed her child and become a bad mother: conversely, we may feel some sympathy for both Barbara and Seamus, no matter how they have conspired unwittingly to create a daughter who relies on shrinks and self-harm to survive day by day in the world.

I did approach this book with some trepidation given the subject matter, also because I know the author personally having worked with her some years ago and when you know someone, sometimes it feels a little odd spooking into their private memories, even if they are publicly shared in this manner.  Of course Lyn G Farrell is not Amanda, but in reading around her biography I see there was physical abuse in her childhood at the hands of her father, and those issues and those of mental illness and collapse, are portrayed extremely well, while still presenting stories of a growing and evolving family life with some moments of humour.

This book will reward any reader willing to give this the time and attention it deserves.  I found it a very emotional experience in places, a disturbing one in others, but somehow I developed a liking for Amanda in particular, as despite her troubles she shows a deep self-awareness and strength which keeps her going.  She’s a fighter, a survivor, she is plucky and when she rages, she bubbles with life.

The title, incidentally, refers to Seamus as both a violent man and, perhaps, one with some mental issues himself, so ‘wacky’ as in the walking stick he uses to beat his young son across the back, and in the definition of a person as ‘wacky’ in terms of their peculiarity or eccentricity.  This is a book which plays with names, with definitions, and ultimately with memories, which is where the mix of voices is so relevant and poignant in a way.

I felt hints of JD Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and Holden Caulfield in the anger of the narrator, but that is very much a teenage-focused book for angry young things, just like the contemporary films featuring James Dean.  The strongest links I got from ‘The Wacky Man’, and they are just hints of the books I have loved on topics relating to mental disintegration in particular, are Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood in ‘The Bell Jar’ (who could be a close cousin of Barbara, or her sister), or Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical ‘Girl, Interrupted’.

Having said this, Farrell has very much developed her own style and tone and I am very pleased to hear that a future novel is in development.  I recommend this title to you wholeheartedly, and thank Lucy Chamberlain at Legend Press for the gratis copy in return for an honest review on this book’s launch blog tour.

 


Ducks and Drakes, 1921 – ★★★½

I contributed to a Kickstarter to get this film out of the Library of Congress archives and out into the world. It’s a Bebe Daniels comedy, and she plays Teddy, who likes to flirt on the telephone with random men while keeping her fiancé Rob (Jack Holt) at arm’s length.

When Rob discovers that all his friends have been dallying with Teddy, he arranges a surprise for her that should put her off being with strange men, while throwing her back at him. What transpires is funny, flirty, and naughty.

Bebe, at twenty years old, is full of mischief and innocence, and whether she’s in the bathtub, speeding along in her car, or coquettishly saving her virtue, she’s beautiful to watch, and a talented comedienne with large eyes, pouty mouth, and a range of 20s costumes which are terrific, stylish and stunning.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


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is there room for me to sew?

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The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

Random Blogger from Jersey, Channel Islands, UK. Not Noo Jersey, USA. Expect the unexpected. Life's too short to be niche.

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

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West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

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