Avanti!

Year: 1972

Director: Billy Wilder

Stars: Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews, Gianfranco Barra

One of Billy Wilder’s lesser known gems, this is the tale of American businessman Wendell Armbruster, Jr., who is called straight from the golf course to a trans-Atlantic flight when news of his father’s death comes through. Armbruster Sr. had spent every summer in the same Italian resort for ten years – to ‘refresh himself’. On arrival, it slowly becomes clear to Wendell that his father has been having a decade-long affair with an English lady, whose daughter Pamela is also there to collect the body of her mother, who died in the car with his father.

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Whilst navigating the process of understanding the situation, handling the local bureaucracy, and trying to speed up repatriation for a funeral in just three days time, Wendell begins to understand how Pamela feels, and starts to see Ischia through her eyes.

Then the bodies disappear from the local morgue.

This is – for me at least – an unsung marvel. The story is a very gentle comedic romance, set against a beautiful backdrop. Lemmon and Mills work very well together, with her free-and-easy British way contrasting nicely with his somewhat brash American manner. But the real stars are the supporting cast.

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There’s hotel manager, Carlo Carlucci, whose manner is sublime in portraying brusque professionalism, Italian charm, and genuine feelings at both his lost friends and their children’s plight. There are the staff – forthright Bruno and his girlfriend, the pregnant maid Anna, and the very cheesy barman.There are the local vineyard owning family, the Trotta brothers, into whose property the ill-fated Fiat plunged. and there’s State Department official J. J. Blodgett, determined to arrive and sort out the confusion with typical officious bluster, just when Wendell and Pamela would rather be left alone.

The scenery is excellent, the music swirls and soars, and the two hours flies by.

For any fans of Wilder’s other work (and who doesn’t love Some Like It Hot, The Producers, The Apartment or Irma La Douce) please make sure this one doesn’t pass you by…

Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head

Year: 1967

Director: Gerald Thomas

Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Dany Robin

Carry On’s take on the Scarlet Pimpernel brings us to Revolutionary France and the rule of Citizen Robespierre and his not-so-secret police, including the Big Cheese himself, Citizen Camembert and his sidekick, Citizen Bidet. When a dashing hero starts rescuing aristocrats from the very guillotine itself, Camembert spares little effort in trying to capture the self-styled “Black Fingernail”.

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But when the Fingernail, known to us as English aristocrat Sir Rodney Ffing, together with his friend and helper Lord Darcy Pue, rescue the foppish royalist, the Duc de Pomfritte, from his fateful meeting with Madame La Guillotine, even tricking Camembert into beheading his own executioner into the bargain, Camembert and Bidet (together with Camembert’s sister, the would-be countess Desiree) are sent to England to unmask and capture the Fingernail. Their only leverage is that they have taken prisoner Jacqueline, a beautiful lady that Sir Rodney met and fell for whilst evading the french troops in Calais.

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This, the 13th Carry On in the series, is a wonderful farce from start to finish. There are so many terrible accents, so many cringe-worthy gags, and so many completely unbelievable scenes (I especially love the duel scene in the Garden of Fragrance!). Sid James is on top form as Sir Rodney, in one of his best performances. The interplay between Kenneth Williams and Peter Butterworth as Camembert and Bidet is joyful, and the supporting cast, including Peter Gilmore, Jacqueline Pearce, Julian Orchard, Marianne Stone, Hugh Futcher and Michael Ward, are brilliant and flesh out the film into an utterly believable, utterly wonderful entry in Britain’s best known and best loved comedy franchise.

The Big Bus

Year: 1976

Director: James Frawley

Stars: Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, Rene Auberjonois, Ned Beatty, Richard Mulligan, Sally Kellerman, Murphy Dunne, Jose Ferrer, John Beck, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Ruth Gordon, and a host of others.

For the uninitiated, The Big Bus is an Airplane-style comedy – despite being earlier by several years – which focuses around the maiden trip of the world’s first nuclear-powered bus on it’s way from New York to Denver – non-stop, no less. There’s the usual backstories on the bus, including the failed love affair between the male and female leads, the man with the terminal disease, the doubting priest, the old woman travelling alone, and just about every other cliche you can imagine. And at the same time, there’s the plot to destroy the bus by agents of the fossil fuel nations, fearing their future profits.

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The actors are all cheesily good, especially Auberjonois as the priest who isn’t certain what he believes, and John Beck as ‘Shoulders’, the co-driver with the habit of falling asleep at the wheel. However, the real star is the bus itself: Cyclops.

Cyclops is incredible. With a passenger capacity of 110, it is equipped with such wonders as a bowling alley, an Oriental-style cocktail lounge with a piano bar, a swimming pool, the captain’s dining room, a private marble-and-gold bathroom with sunken tub, and a full chef’s kitchen. Additionally, it has outside features including an automatic car-wash mechanism for the Cyclops exterior; an automatic en-route tyre-changing system; and a display of “Flags of all Nations,” which emerges from the vehicle’s roof. Double-decked and articulated, with 32 wheels, it truly steals every scene.

The troubles that emerge along the way, putting the passengers in peril, are almost unbelievable in their disaster-movie familiarity, and the way that these disasters are averted often defy belief…..

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The Big Bus is a movie I’ve always liked, and having watched it again very recently, it was lovely to be reminded just why…

The Atomic Submarine

Year: 1959

Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet

Stars: Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, Brett Halsey

I’ve been going through a retro-sci-fi kick recently, and the other night selected this relatively unknown movie from the back end of the fifties.

The Atomic Submarine cashed in on the two big ‘sciencey’ things dominating the American psyche at the time: space aliens and all things nuclear. It tells the story of a US Navy submarine’s mission under the polar ice cap to solve the mysterious and tragic disappearances of ships and submarines in the region. Of course, the sub is atomic-powered and the ships are being destroyed by a submerged alien spaceship. and of course in the end it’s Humans 1, Aliens 0. However, that just tells half the story.

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There’s almost as much focus on relationships and personal tensions as there is on defeating the alien bent on colonizing the planet. There’s a pacifist among the war-mongers, there are scientists and soldiers, there are those who value life and those for whom fallen colleagues are simply ‘fortunes of war’.

All that having been said, it’s a shame that the acting is so wooden and the scenery so bland. Because there’s a good plot here, discussing principles of war and peace better than most other films of the age managed.

White Cargo

Year: 1973

Director: Ray Selfe

Stars: David Jason, Imogen Hassall, Hugh Lloyd, David Prowse, Sue Bond, Tim Barrett

Meet Albert Toddey. He’s… well, he’s a nobody. A Joe Everyman with dreams. However, Albert’s dreams are interesting…

White Cargo walks us through the last few weeks of Albert’s life, as he gets his dream job – one with the government, in a position of responsibility. and in the flashbacks, we see just how fascinating Albert’s dreams are.

Going to a strip club with a free entry ticket, he sees a girl being harassed by a hulking bruiser. In his mind, he transforms into a James Bond super-hero type and saves the girl. When he acts this out in reality, he gets clobbered, soaked, and thrown out. But this is just the start of the journey into espionage, white slavery, sex trafficking, and police investigations.

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This is an early outing for David Jason, who of course went on to become an established part of British comedy royalty. It’s always good to see stars in their formative roles, and he’s very believable as Albert. As the situations become increasingly more bizarre, and the actions of his alter-ego become further removed from the way his real self copes with pompous officials, villains, girls destined for the white slave trade, kidnap and finally a battle between Albert and a half-dozen armed heavies in a warehouse, you can’t help but warm to his character, and you can clearly see glimpses of the Granville character from Open All Hours come through.

Of the other actors, the stand out is the beautiful but tragic Imogen Hassall. Imogen sadly took her own life at 38 after a life filled with heartbreak led to depression. This simply adds more depth to the on-screen view of her as a happy, bubbly woman with a captivating smile and a whole lot of talent. As Stella, the undercover cop whom Albert initially tries to rescue from the bruiser, she is both strong and vulnerable, being a perfect foil for Albert’s twin persona.

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To be fair, the rest of the cast are far less believable, with David Prowse being as solidly wooden as his role required, and the script isn’t really up to much. That misses the point here though.

It’s a film that engages you far more than it should, and the sum of it’s best parts (Jason and Hassall) raise the film above the mundane to a far more enjoyable level. As a comedy of its time, it still holds up well, and gives a glimpse of a London now long-gone.

Gattaca

Year: 1997

Director: Andrew Niccol

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Gore Vidal,  Alan Arkin, Loren Dean, Ernest Borgnine

In a future world controlled by eugenics, how can you fulfill your dreams if you don’t carry the right genes?

Vincent (Hawke) has a dream. He wants to be one of the special people selected for space missions, and watches every one of the dozen or so launches to space stations, colonies, and – when the launch window is correct – deeper space and the outer planets.

There’s a problem, though – Vincent is an In-Valid. He was born naturally, without the ‘benefits’ of gene manipulation, which produces superior humans. And his ‘defects’ mark him out in this DNA-driven world as unsuitable for any worthwhile job. The contrast between him and his brother Aaron (Dean) couldn’t be stronger. Aaron was given every genetic advantage possible, mainly driven by their father’s disappointment at Vincent’s flaws. But Vincent is driven too…

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This tale of how your very cellular structure could determine whether you live in utopia or dystopia, shows all the facets of such a world. There’s the shiny clean sterility of the Valids, those given the right start in life. There’s the In-Valids, like Vincent – unable to aspire because his entire body would betray him, living however they can manage. There’s those caught in limbo by chance, such as Irene (Thurman), for whom a single defect survived and therefore places her in the world of the Valids, but never really of that world. And there’s those from whom perfection was taken, like Jerome (Law) a champion swimmer now paralysed after a car accident.

Vincent and Jerome conduct genetic fraud, with Vincent ‘becoming’ Jerome, using donated cells (skin, hair, blood and urine) to gain access to the Gattaca corporation and ultimately his dream. But when a key administrator is murdered at the office,  the police start crawling all over the building, taking genetic samples from everyone they suspect. Although innocent of the murder, Vincent now has to keep one step ahead of the law, whilst maintaining his place on the flight and handling his growing relationship with Irene.

This isn’t helped by the police lead on the case being his brother Aaron…

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Gattaca wasn’t well received on release, but has rightly gained cult status. It’s not always the paciest of plots, and there are several unexplained plot issues, but overall it’s a great film, with a unique perspective. the leads are all very good, although I’d have liked to have seen Thurman given a little more to do instead of seeming to be a token female in an otherwise male-dominated movie.

Overall, Gattaca is a good science fiction film, concentrating just as much on the science as on the fiction, and it’s a thoughtful, intelligent vision of a genuinely fearful future.

A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell

Year: 1990

Director: Brett Piper

Stars: Linda Corwin, Paul Guzzi, Alex Pirnie, Mark Deshaies

Welcome to the world of tomorrow gone wrong.

The story tells of Lea (Linda Corwin), a survivor of the global armageddon and the self-titled nymphoid barbarian. What is a nymphoid barbarian (aside from a ploy to get teenage boys into the movie theatre)? Well, it’s just like a normal barbarian, but as Lea says in the intro spiel, “sometimes my juices start to flow…”

The movie follows Lea on her bikini-clad journey through this barren landscape, fighting off strange penis-shaped dinosaurs, rape gangs, and a ‘Skeletor’ wannabe (Alex Pirnie) and his cronies. She is aided by a mysterious masked stranger (Mark Deshaies) and the erstwhile hero of the piece, Marn (Paul Guzzi).

Lea’s journey is not one that takes her, or us,  very far to be honest. And here’s why…

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Now I need to start by saying that I love Troma movies.

You know Troma. The cheesiness, the tackiness, the blatantly clear intent to wring every possible sexual innuendo out of every script, the gallons of fake blood, it all yells ‘TROMA’ from the rooftops. During the eighties, they were the stereotypical low-budget, low-expectations horror stable. You knew exactly what you were going to get.

Nymphoid Barbarian is really no different. In fact, the cheesiness and tackiness are probably overdone, leading to it appearing cheap rather than cheesy – even for Troma. There’s little or no dialogue, the effects are terrible, the acting poor, the plot risible, and the climax rather flaccid.

Yep. It’s a Troma. So in that respect, they hit the mark with all of the above.

It’s just…. well, if anything, this is probably Troma-lite, with pretty much no nudity, very little gore, the lack of dialogue leads to no memorable lines (aside from Lea’s introduction) and the monsters are on such a low level that they would make Harryhausen spin in his grave, for pity’s sake.

Is it worth watching? Probably, yeah. But only for giggles at how such a movie could get any kind of cinema release. Because I doubt you’ll get much more out of it, and it’s no Toxic Avenger, that’s for sure.

Dad’s Army

Year: 2016

Director: Oliver Parker

Stars: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson

Dangerous ground, this.

When you get a show that is so well loved, and has such iconic characters played by properly good actors who became the role, remaking it is always going to be a risk. You will always come up against that hard-core set of fans who are going to hate you for even trying, no matter how good the film is. You’ll get (perhaps unfair) comparisons with the high quality of the earlier stories, and you’ll get criticisms whether you try to channel the original actors or put your own take on the characters.

This is doubly so when the source material is Dad’s Army. A more iconic British comedy you’ll struggle to find, with characters that are still loved by so many, played by actors whose lives and careers became one with their role.

Given all this, how did they pull off the movie?

Well, the story was fairly simple: the Home Guard unit at Warmington On Sea are tipped off that there’s a German spy somewhere in the town. However, they are all too engrossed in their attempts to impress the beautiful reporter that lands in their midst to realise that there may just be a connection. And with D-Day fast approaching, it’s important that they find out just who is sending messages across the channel.

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When I first saw this movie, I admit to being pleasantly surprised. My expectations for a dire mockery of the tv show were quickly dispelled by some of the performances. Toby Jones was very good as the bumbling Captain Mainwaring, and Michael Gambon was simply superb as the doddery pacifist Private Godfrey. And whilst the others were not up to par with the past, only Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones really let the side down.

The script has plenty of laughs, there’s some great slapstick that would not have been amiss back in the day, and it was great to see Ian Lavender and Frank Williams back on screen.

So – what did I think overall?

Was it an unqualified success? Well, no. That would have been nearly impossible.

Was it the unmitigated disaster that so many feared? Most definitely not. It treated the characters, the legacy, and the fans with respect, and delivered a good, funny film that paid tribute to the original in a way that many remakes just don’t.

Romance With A Double Bass

Year: 1974

Director: Robert Young

Stars: John Cleese, Connie Booth, Graham Crowden, Andrew Sachs, Freddie Jones, June Whitfield

Romance With A Double Bass is a lovely little film, one of Cleese’s first performances after he opted out of Monty Python’s fourth season of Flying Circus.

Based on Anton Chekhov’s short story “Roman’s Kontrabasom”, this comedy short tells the tale of Smychkov, a musician hired to play double bass at the wedding of Count Alexei to his reluctant bride, the Princess Constanza. Arriving at the castle early on a hot day, Smychkov is sent packing until the ceremony. He strolls the grounds, and decides to cool off by taking a dip in the lake. Unbeknownst to him, the Princess is also in the lake, looking to retrieve a valuable fishing float.

When their clothes are stolen, both are left naked and in some dilemma. After a predictable embarrassing meeting, they realise that only by working together and using the case of Smychkov’s double bass as concealment, can they get across the grounds and into the castle without creating the massive scene both fear. It’s a good job Smychkov didn’t play the triangle…

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Cleese and then-wife Booth deliver great performances, scattered with typical Cleese lunacy here and there amid an increasingly complex journey towards clothed safety. And the film is actually surprisingly innocent and naive, considering both Cleese and Booth spend at least eighty percent of the film naked. Of course, nobody can spend that much time naked on film without a little attraction, and so …

The supporting cast are good value for the minimal time they spend on screen, however this is really a vehicle for the two leads.

Running at around 40 minutes, it’s well worth looking up, whether you want to enjoy the comedy, whether you relish the sight of John Cleese’s buttocks and a very full frontal Connie Booth, or even whether you are a die-hard fan of Anton Chekhov screen adaptations …

Star Wars : The Force Awakens

Not that long ago, in a movie theatre not too far away…

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Year: 2015

Director: J J Abrams

Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

The plot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is pretty simple. Let’s set the scene: Luke Skywalker has buggered off somewhere to be alone. The Rebellion are now called the Resistance, and the Empire is now The First Order. Both sides are trying to locate Luke, because they see him as the only real hope against / threat to* (delete as appropriate) the First Order, which is set on re-establishing the old Empire grip over the entire galaxy.

The First Order have a new dark-Jedi, in Kylo Ren. The Resistance have former Princess, now General Leia, in charge (seemingly above Admiral Ackbar, even though they both effectively hold the same rank). And out in the field, there’s a crop of new Resistance fighters.

Rey is a scavenger, living on Jakku and scratching out a living trading salvage for food.  Her rough existence is changed when a small droid, BB-8, sort of adopts her, and soon she’s facing the First Order alongside Finn, a self-described Resistance fighter who’s actually an escaped Stormtrooper. They escape the planet in an old, rusty ship from a junkyard – yep, it’s the Falcon… It turns out that BB-8 is carrying a star map with the location of a certain Mr Skywalker…

Cue various scenes of space battles, incredibly coincidental meetings, the return of Han and Chewie, captures, escapes, etc., all leading to the big confrontation on the First Order’s new mega-weapon, Starkiller Base: a cannon housed inside a planet that draws power from its sun and that can destroy entire systems across vast distances.

Before the weapon can be used on the Resistance base, fleets of X-Wing fighters and a handful of ground troops must destroy the base by blowing up the shield generator. Having got inside, Han comes face to face with Kylo Ren, who – we all know by now – is actually Han and Leia’s son (and therefore Darth Vader’s grandson). Though emotionally torn, Kylo Ren eventually kills Han to prevent the First Order from falling.

Of course, the Resistance win, the base is destroyed, and the star map is used to allow Rey to find Luke in the end.

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That’s the story. So what did I think?

The plot itself is light and generally substance-free, following much the same trail that A New Hope walked back in 1977. The way that it was presented was very good, with space battles shown far closer to the original trilogy than those horrible pointless prequels. The light sabre fights were a welcome return to common sense, without all the ‘Crouching Jedi, Hidden Sith’ rubbish. And the scenery was far less CGI-driven and far more realistic than Episodes 1-3, which will always be a good thing.

The familiar characters were very good, even though Luke really didn’t appear until the very end. Leia was the Leia from  Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back) in full military mode, and Chewie was as much fun as always. Han was the surprise, with a performance of maturity and depth that made the wisened old space-farer very believable.

The new characters were generally good, and certainly the future sequels will give the opportunity for their characters to mature. John Boyega (Finn) gave a unique performance as the Stormtrooper with a conscience, and became more likeable as the film progressed. Daisy Ridley (Rey) was excellent as the feisty, independent, yet deeply focused heroine. And then we get to Adam Driver…

Sorry, but for me, Kylo Ren really didn’t work.

You can split the film into three main sections as far as he is concerned. Firstly, there’s the sinister, secretive, mask-wearing Ren, who was so obviously subservient to the commander on the battle cruiser. Vader was never subservient, unless it suited his purpose, and never to a ship captain. It made him look weak and less significant.

Then you get what I call his Jacobean period. As soon as the mask came off, he looked like one of the consumptive poets in Blackadder III. Definitely not a Sith Lord.

Then after he killed Han, he just seemed to go mental when trying to kill Rey and Finn. Zero control, and nothing at all like every other Dark Lord that the films have ever portrayed.

So there you have it. A great film, highly enjoyable, but not as good as the initial trilogy simply because the baddie was laughably pathetic.

Let’s see what the future (well, the long distant but not quite so long distant as before) past reveals.

And, of course, what Family Guy makes of it…

Cherry 2000

Year: 1987

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

Stars: Melanie Griffith, Tim Thomerson, David Andrews, Pamela Gidley

Another view of the future. The year? 2017…..

In the US, you live in a city if you’re lucky, or out in the wastelands if you’re not. Sam is lucky, I guess. He lives in a nice automated apartment with his comforts, which include Cherry, a 2000-series Gynoid – artificial, female, gorgeous, and fulfilling every role a beautiful, dutiful wife would.

When Cherry short-circuits during sex, Sam manages to salvage Cherry’s memory disk and heads off out of the city in search of a replacement unit. Knowing he can’t go alone, he hires reluctant tracker Edith to help with locating the unit and as additional protection. Their destination is Zone 7, a manufacturing area ruled by wasteland overlord Lester, and where the Cherry 2000 models were made.

Sam is captured by Lester’s gang, and after witnessing his brutality, he escapes with Edith. They finally reach the factory, with Lester and the gang in pursuit, and find a Cherry 2000 unit, but having spent so much time together, Sam and Edith don’t feel the same way about each other now…

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Having watched other futuristic, post-apocalyptic movies recently, this one is a welcome change. Its backdrop is the open spaces of North America rather than the hippy domes of Logan’s Run, and the characters are brutally real rather than the insipid automatons in THX 1138. It has far more of the Mad Max feel than any of the glossy futures offered by other movies.

Melanie Griffith is fun as the feisty, opinionated Edith, always coming across as just about keeping her emotions in check. Tim Thomerson is playing a role he was made for as the maniacal Lester, and the rest of the cast, whilst not shining, perform with application and effort that helps the movie zip along.

I think that on the whole, I prefer this kind of future to the clinical blandness that the 70s offered us. It would certainly be less comfortable and secure, but it’d also be a whole lot more fun…

Zeta One

Year: 1969

Director: Michael Cort

Stars: James Robertson Justice, Dawn Addams, Charles Hawtrey, Anna Gael, Yutte Stensgaard, Valerie Leon, Carol Hawkins, Robin Hawdon, Wendy Lingham

Imagine a world entirely populated by women. Where no men exist, no males are born, and which faces an inevitable problem with the future of the species. That world is Angvia.

The Angvian women are intelligent, feisty, attractive and sexually aware, but despite this the survival plan that they choose to put into action is one which they really haven’t thought through. Launching ‘kidnap’ attacks on an unsuspecting Earth, they take…. not men, but more women. As replacements, no doubt.

The mysterious disappearances of so many young women soon attract the attention of the security services, who put their top man, James Word, onto the case.

There’s also a criminal interest, as the bombastic Major Bourdon and his sidekick, Swyne, see Angvia as a world to conquer, and command.

That’s about all I can say about the story, without giving the ending away.

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I’d rather focus on what’s good, and bad, about the film.

As far as good stuff goes, there’s a very sixties, hippy trippy style about the film, with lots of flashbacks and mini-skirts, and Angvia looks like a psychedelic maze.

That’s pretty much it for good stuff.

Because the story makes no sense, the acting is dire, the dialogue poor, the pace sluggish at best, and the characters never convince you that they are doing anything more than dialling it in.

When you hear the name of the female planet (a very obvious anagram) and the name of the secret agent (“my word is my bond”…) it’s clear that nothing the director, producer or writers did had any real thought behind it, so transparent is the production and delivery.

The casting is frankly baffling, with the two main bad guys being played by James Robertson Justice and Charles Hawtrey, two of our most loved and funniest actors. Seeing them in full on villain mode is a little unsettling.

I think the movie can best be summed up like this: the females – and there are many – spend most of the movie half-clothed at best. Those women include Valerie Leon, Yutte Stensgaard, Carol Hawkins and Anna Gael, some of the Sixties’ most beautiful actresses.

But all you notice is how bad the whole thing is.

One for novelty-value viewing only, I’m afraid….

Carry On Columbus

Year: 1992

Director: Gerald Thomas

Stars: Jim Dale, Bernard Cribbins, Maureen Lipman, Peter Richardson, Alexei Sayle, Sara Crowe, Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, Julian Clary, Rik Mayall

In the year of 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue….

Well, only if he could find a map and someone to pay for his voyage. Convinced that there was a sea route to the East, he was determined to gain for himself all the riches currently being claimed in taxes on all goods passing through his country by the Sultan of Turkey. When Mordecai, a very recent convert from Judaism,  appears with the document he needs, he sets off to see the King and Queen of Spain to secure a ship. Hot on his trail are Fatima and Achmed, the Sultans best (and worst) agents, to stop Columbus at all costs.

After securing a ship, a motley crew, and surviving several sabotage attempts, they finally reach land. But it does not appear that this shore is home to the Indians they were expecting…

Carry On Columbus can best be described as very, very thinly spread Marmite. Those who don’t like it, really don’t like it. And those who do like it (like myself) seem to regard it as an ok flick, not particularly good, but average to middling in parts. But could have been much more…

This is due in a large way to the challenges they faced during production and with an audience that had moved on from the Seventies.

Trying to release a film about Columbus in 1992 wasn’t in any way unique, but it did mean that you couldn’t overrun the 500th Anniversary of his voyage. So time was tight, and as such, required rewrites were hurried, casting bordered on the “Are you available? Then you’re hired” approach, and post-production was rushed through in a very haphazard way. And it was then shown to audiences who either felt too nostalgic for the classics of their youth, or didn’t get the purpose of a Carry On.

But that does the film a disservice.

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There are poor performances, terrible lines, dodgy sets and tacky production values, certainly. But there’s still worth there. Bernard Cribbins gives his all as Mordecai, and whilst Jim Dale goes over the top on occasion, he throws his all into the role of Columbus. Some of the newcomers get the point of a Carry On (Julian Clary, Alexei Sayle and the lovely Sara Crowe especially) and there are some wonderfully delivered jokes in the script that are worth waiting for, my favorite being between Rebecca Lacey and Jack Douglas, who set up and deliver a punchline about sharks that is delightful.

The Americans (for ’tis they that Columbus discovers) hit just the right note of Brooklyn condescension towards these ignorant visitors, even down to the broad accents and attitudes.

And if more proof was needed, consider the other two major commemorative films of the year – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, and 1492: Conquest Of Paradise – cost $45 million and $47 million respectively to make, whilst Columbus cost less than $3 million, and yet the Carry On effort out performed both of it’s big budget rivals at the box office.

Is Carry On Columbus a good film? Well…. no.

Is it the worst Carry On? Most certainly not. Anyone who has sat through Carry On Emmannuelle will know that…

Without A Clue

Year: 1988

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Stars: Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman

In Victorian London, everyone is fascinated by the exploits of that greatest of detectives, Mr Sherlock Holmes. They read about him in The Strand magazine, and everybody wants to meet him. There’s just one problem : he doesn’t exist.

Holmes was invented by Dr John Watson, to fictionalise his own brilliance as a criminologist. And when the need to unveil Holmes becomes too great, he hires an actor, Reginald Kincaid, to play the role.

Kincaid / Holmes is a smash hit. Unfortunately, he’s also a drunkard, a womaniser, and a gambler. And Watson has created a monster that he can’t get rid of

When the printing plates for the five pound note are stolen from the Royal Mint, Watson realises that it’s not the simple theft that the police believe. He sees the start of an ingenious trail that will ultimately lead to his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

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Without A Clue is an excellent, funny spoof on the Sherlock Holmes genre. Swapping the skills of Holmes and Watson is a clever twist, and provides much of the humour as the two try to maintain the facade whilst investigating the case. Michael Caine (Holmes) and Ben Kingsley (Watson) have a wonderful rapport that carries the film at a cracking pace. Aided by Mrs Hudson and the Irregulars (a group of street kids), and abetted by Moriarty and his cronies, the pair hunt through both London and the Scottish Highlands for clues. Their ability to frustrate and annoy Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard (played wonderfully deadpan by Jeffrey Jones) adds a fun element, and of course it wouldn’t be an 80s British movie without a role for the always lovely Lysette Anthony, would it?

Overall, this is one of the better Holmes movies, not just because it’s different, not just because it’s funny, but because it’s a very well acted, very well cast piece of cinema.

THX 1138

Year: 1971

Director: George Lucas

Stars: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie

THX 1138 paints perhaps the bleakest of all futures.

Developed from a short film made by George Lucas during his college years, it’s a bland, soulless vision of a world where all intimacy and individuality is suppressed. The population are controlled by the administration of mandatory mind-altering drugs to keep them compliant, asexual, and able to conduct demanding, dangerous tasks. There are no names, only designations. And there are no family units, only assigned roommates.

THX’s roommate is LUH 3417, who has been secretly avoiding her medication. When she starts substituting harmless tablets for his drugs, THX begins to experience emotions for the first time in his life, leading to sex between him and LUX, which is strictly illegal.

Another citizen, SEN 5241, sees their relationship and arranges for an unapproved room reassignment. THX objects, but before he can follow through with his complaint, the lack of drugs in his system leads to an accident at work.

After all three are arrested, THX learns that LUH is pregnant, and he escapes custody to find her. Once he learns that she has been executed, his only thoughts are to escape the cage that he never knew he lived in.

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The visuals of this futuristic nightmare are stark. All characters wear only white and are clean shaven. There’s rarely any glimpse of colour. The only exception are the security forces, who wear black. As a good vs evil metaphor, it’s pretty unsubtle. With numbers instead of names, individual personalities destroyed both medically and ethically, and free will a thing of the past, it’s not a movie that can be watched and ignored.

However, I finished it feeling more than a little disappointed. I’m not exactly sure what questions it set out to pose, not whether any questions had been answered or points made. It’s a feast for the senses, but a feast of tofu – not exactly tasteless, but not a taste most people would savour.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

 

Year: 1981

Director: Stephen Spielberg

Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies. Denholm Elliott, Ronald Lacey, Paul Freeman

A movie that spawned a hundred sub-standard copycat movies, Raiders Of The Lost Ark was an instant classic. Throwing together action, adventure, romance, real nasty baddies, gruesome cases of instant death, ancient mysticism, and a lantern-jawed hero whose chin you could strike matches on proved an unmissable success.

Harrison Ford really was meant to play Indiana Jones (even though he was not the first choice – the role was offered to Tom Selleck, who turned it down because Magnum PI was taking up all of his time) just as much as he was meant to play Han Solo. And as the gung-ho archaeologist, he is perfect as the well-intentioned but slightly hapless gentleman adventurer. When he is led towards the ultimate prize – the Ark of the Covenant – he cannot resist the challenge.

His journey takes him to Nepal and old flame Marion (Karen Allen) where he recovers the headpiece for the Staff of Ra. They then travel to Cairo and on to the ancient city of Tanis, where the headpiece can be used to find the exact location of the Well of Souls, the final resting place for the Ark.

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All the time they are battling Nazis, who believe the Ark contains immense power, and Belloq, a fellow archaeologist and Jones’ arch rival. And when the Nazis get the Ark, it’s a race to try and prevent them using it for evil.

Of course, you know all this. If you’ve never seen the movie, I doubt any of this can still be classed as spoilers.

There is one thing about the movie that will always stop me giving it a full 10/10 rating, however good the actors, the plot, the action, the scenery and the effects are. And surprisingly, it was first flagged to the public during an episode of The Big Bang Theory….

The character of Indiana Jones is utterly superfluous.

Nothing he does makes any difference to how the film plays out. Think about it – the Nazis were already researching Abner Ravenwood, the expert on the Ark. It was just a matter of time until they wound up at Marion’s place (she is his daughter after all). They would have found the headpiece, seen the inscription on the reverse and dug in the right place immediately, taken the Ark to the island, opened it, and all died. Which is exactly what happened – despite the best attentions of Indy. The only possible contribution he made might have been signalling the US Navy at the end to come get it – but then who’s to say they didn’t see the many-miles-high column of smoke and fire and come along anyway.

Don’t get me wrong – I love this movie, and it’s a spiffing yarn. But it’s like Star Wars after watching Family Guy: Blue Harvest. Just as you can’t get the Dirty Dancing sequence out of your head, once you know about the expendable nature of the hero, it’s never going to be quite the same…

 

 

Swamp Thing

 

Year: 1982

Director: Wes Craven

Stars: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, David Hess

An early Troma-style superhero movie, Swamp Thing tells a tale of power, violence, revenge and love amongst the bayou.

Whilst Alec Holland works in the Louisiana swamps on a top secret bio-engineering project, a paramilitary outfit led by the evil Dr Arcane swoops in, kills everyone they meet, and tries to steal the recently perfected formula. They make two errors, however. They attack shortly after government agent Alice Cable arrives to take up a security post, and in the battle, Alec is covered in chemicals and runs off into the swamp trailing fire – and they assume he died.

Alec survives, although he’s transformed into a hideous, enormously strong mutated plant creature. When he learns that Alice survived and the formula is still missing, he battles Arcane’s men to protect both Alice and the formula.

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Swamp Thing doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be. Under Wes Craven’s directorship, you’d expect it to be violent and gory. As a Troma-style movie, you’d expect plenty of gratuitous nudity and corny dialogue. And as a DC Comics superhero movie, you’d expect action and adventure. In truth, you get very little of any of this (especially in the US, where two minutes of a topless Adrienne Barbeau were cut from the theatrical release) and the movie just kind of bumbles along to a fairly tame climax.

It’s cheesy, it’s fairly tame, and – if you are watching it hoping for a connection with any of the franchises listed above – it’ll be a little disappointing.

Dune

Year: 1984

Director: David Lynch

Stars: Kyle Maclachlan, Jurgen Prochnow, Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Sean Young, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Patrick Stewart, Sian Phillips, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Virginia Madsen

It is the year 10,191. The Universe is ruled by the Emperor, coveted by the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen, but run by the Spacing Guild. And the Spacing Guild has but one interest: the continuing and protected mining of the spice Melange, which enables safe, instantaneous travel between stars due to it’s properties, which allow users to ‘fold’ space and thereby travel anywhere without actually moving.

Melange is found on a single planet in the universe: The desert planet of Arrakis – also known as Dune. And when the Emperor plots to rid the universe of the House of Atreides (whom he feels are building an army to overthrow him) by pitching them into all-out war with the Harkonnens on Arrakis, spice production is put at risk.

The Harkonnens, through a highly-placed traitor, kill Duke Leto and abandon his concubine, the Lady Jessica and their son Paul in the deep desert. Against the odds, Paul and Jessica survive and join with the blue-on-blue eyed Fremen, Arrakis’ indigenous race.

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What the Emperor and the Harkonnens fail to realise is that Paul is the one the Fremen have been waiting for – the Kwisatz Haderach, the universe’s supreme being. His mother is a Bene Gesserit witch, and is herself the result of a breeding program stretching back centuries. As Paul’s powers and influence grows, as he realises his future and challenges his destiny by taking the ‘water of life’, and as the spice begins to take hold, the scene is set for the confrontation.

And that is Dune. A series of books by author Frank Herbert, visioned by David Lynch and Dino di Laurentiis, and played out large on screen. And despite mainly negative reviews by critics at the time, it does have value.

For one, the soundtrack soars, and matches the sweeping scenery perfectly. From the smallest detail to the widest vista, the music never appears at odds with the imagery. Add to this a great mix of characters, from the serious, dedicated Fremen to the wildly, wonderfully outrageous Baron Harkonnen and his nephews, the sadistic Rabban and the arrogant Feyd-Rautha. The fight scenes are well managed, and the technology a mixture of steam-punk and practicality.

The key thing is the characterisations. Every character has their dark side, but only the good guys have a light side. Herbert’s story, and Lynch’s interpretation, shows no redeeming features whatsoever amongst the villains – no remorse, no pity, and no humanity. As such, we get a grim, dark vision of the future, but still one where the line between good and evil remains apparent throughout.

Dune is a movie that was, perhaps, ahead of its time. At a point where successful movies were more frothy, light-hearted affairs, Dune struck across the grain. An original flop at the box office, it’s since become one of those movies that gets better with age…

It Happened One Night

Year : 1934

Director: Frank Capra

Stars: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas

A rich, spoilt, but very sheltered socialite escapes her father’s yacht by diving overboard rather than face his wrath over her news that she married the first man she met on a previous day out. In doing so, she sets off a nationwide hunt, with her father trying to find her before she can reach New York and her new husband.

It Happened One Night is a timeless, curious thing. It’s definitely a chase movie, with Ellie (Colbert) striving to stay one step ahead of the law, her father’s hired detectives, and the press – for whom this story is a godsend.

It’s also a romance, building slowly as Ellie teams up with gruff New York reporter Peter Warne (Gable). Ellie needs help getting to her husband, whilst Peter – on his last chance with his editor and desperate for a story – negotiates an exclusive when they get there.

It’s very much a comedy as well, with the two leads in sparkling form and clearly enjoying the freedom that the – at the time – surprisingly risque plot and script allowed them. Against the backdrop of a host of vivid supporting actors, their relationship grows as they learn to trust and rely on each other’s abilities.

Frank Capra produced and directed this black and white masterpiece, which deservedly swept the board at the 1935 Oscars, winning in all five main categories (Actor, Actress, Director, Movie, and Screenplay), and generated $4,500,000 in revenue. Doesn’t sound much? It’s 138.5 times the amount it cost to make, which (for comparison) would be like Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossing over FORTY TWO BILLION DOLLARS. Not bad…

The Martian

Year: 2015

Director: Ridley Scott

Stars: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover

When disaster strikes in the form of a major storm, Ares III, a manned NASA Mars exploration mission, needs to be cut short. On the way back to the MAV Launcher, mission botanist Mark Watney is struck by debris and lost. The rest of the astronauts are forced to leave, believing him dead.

Only he’s not…

The Martian tells two stories – Watney’s struggle to survive on the barren, lifeless planet alone, and the plans to rescue him once the folks at Nasa realise he’s still alive.

The former relies on stunning scenery, science that is generally far more accurate than in 2013’s Gravity, and an excellent performance of wit and determination by Damon.

The latter, if anything, is a better movie. It’s very much character-driven, with Daniels playing the far too risk-averse NASA Director, Wiig playing the PR officer concerned solely with how things will look to the press, and Bean’s crew director focused on the welfare of his people.

It’s down to Ejiofor as the Mars Mission Director to bring these people together and formulate a real plan to get him home. After some setbacks, a tech at JPL (Glover) hatches an audacious plan…

I mentioned Gravity earlier, because in truth, Gravity could have been – indeed should have been – this movie. Where it failed (through complete disregard for the science of space in favour of cinematography) The Martian manages to succeed through taking the material seriously enough and making sure that all of the stuff that Damon and his earth-bound colleagues do is possible – or at least feasible. Sometimes their solutions appear a little too… obvious, or even convenient, but on the whole there are far less instances of deus ex machina than in other movies – especially Gravity.

That, together with some top performances and some stunning scenery, make this a great movie.

Passport to Pimlico

Year: 1949

Director: Henry Cornelius

Stars: Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Paul Dupuis, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Charles Hawtrey

The plot – as if I need to remind anyone – begins with the unplanned detonation of a WW2 bomb. The explosion uncovers a whole heap of treasure, along with documents that prove that the area around a few streets in Pimlico is actually sovereign territory of Burgundy, after it was ceded to the then Duke by King Edward IV.

The locals realise they are rich, and also no longer subject to rationing, licensing laws, and other restrictions. However, the area quickly becomes a beacon for spivs and black marketeers, and to stop this, the British close the border.

Solving the problem of what to do with the locals becomes harder, as the representatives of the various Government officials and the new Burgundians become intransigent. The arrival of the current Duke of Burgundy just adds to the locals’ sense of freedom and privilege.

Cue water and food shortages, and tube trains being stopped at the border. Something needs to be done…

There’s a charm and an innocence about this endearing comedy, with some very funny moments, and some sparkling dialogue, such as when the local copper declares “Blimey! I’m a foreigner!”

Literally strewn with images of post-war London in the process of rebuilding, there is a timeless value as a history piece here. It’s a reminder of the boundless (and sometimes mindless) optimism that carried Britons through the early post-war years and through some very hard times. Most of all, though, it’s hilarious.

One of Ealing’s finest.

The Runaway Bus

Year: 1954

Director: Val Guest

Stars: Frankie Howerd, Margaret Rutherford, Petula Clark

A lovely little character-driven farce, with plenty of slapstick and lots of little twists.

As southern England lies fog-bound, a handful of passengers leave Heathrow Airport by coach bound for Blackbushe Airport and a chance of getting their flight to Dublin. All is not what it seems with them, however, as the bus holds £200,000 in stolen bullion, and someone on board is the villain!

There’s a quaintness about the movie, from its views of a very pre-commercialised Heathrow Airport to the mixture of passengers, including a pulp-thriller addict who somehow fails to see the tense plot unwrapping before her very eyes.

Frankie Howerd plays the unwitting, unassuming driver, and as such provides most of the comedy moments as he tried to unpick the plot. He was apparently cautious about breaking into film, and only agreed to do it so he could work with Margaret Rutherford. Rutherford plays a bossy academic with her usual aplomb, and a very young Petula Clark shines as the stewardess assigned to look after the passengers.

 

Invasion:UFO

Year: 1974

Director: Gerry Anderson

Stars: Ed Bishop, George Sewell, Gabrielle Drake, Wanda Ventham

This feature length movie is a cinema cut of the first three episodes of the ITC / Gerry Anderson series UFO. Discovering that the Earth is already under attack by aliens from a dying world, who abduct humans for forced organ transplants, a secret organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) is created to defend the Earth using air, land, sea and space-based forces.

This is in many ways a unique sci-fi movie, in that whilst the style is pure Gerry Anderson, it has some interesting and rare features. The method of determining the speed of a spacecraft (one decimal seven demoting 1.7 times the speed of light), the fact that the aliens are never actually given a name – thereby retaining their mystery throughout – and the design of the Interceptor vehicles (effectively a single-shot space fighter) help the show stand out, as does the overall styling. Every female staff member on moonbase wears silver jumpsuits, mauve wigs and extensive eye make-up, apparently for no reason whatsoever aside from its futuristic look.

And it’s this styling that makes it obvious that this is a clear live-action Gerry Anderson effort. It really couldn’t be anything else.

The TV show ran for a single 26-episode season before getting canned. A mini-revival on US networks prompted plans for a sequel, which never materialised but ultimately evolved into the far-better known Space:1999

For quaintness, great seventies styling, and the promise of all the shows that came afterwards, this is one of my favourite seventies sci-fi efforts.

The Ghosts Of Berkeley Square

Year: 1947

Director: Vernon Sewell

Stars: Robert Morley and Felix Aylmer.

Two army officers, desperate to prevent the war they see as inevitable, plan to kidnap the Duke of Marlborough and hold him ransom until the threat passes. Unfortunately, whilst testing the trap they set, they manage to kill themselves in a very stupid, Darwin Awards manner. As celestial punishment for their idiocy, they are condemned to haunt their house in Berkeley Square until such time as a British monarch crosses the threshold.

The film traces the story of the two ghosts as they try to prevent undesirable tenants, fall out with each other (causing a rift that leads them not to talk for 66 years) and, reconciled at last, contrive to orchestrate the royal visit so that they can at last ascend to the afterlife. But tenant after tenant somehow slip through their schemes.

The story is a good one, and the leads are OK (especially Morley) but the real worthiness in this film is the different segments, as we travel through nearly 200 years of history and see the way different tenants turn the old house into a bordello, a circus freak-house, and a WW1 hospital. Each age brings its own story and characters to life, as if we’re seeing the home redecorated in current style, whilst in the corner, there’s an ever present piece of furniture in the two spectres.

Verdict: a good old-fashioned movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Barbarella

Year: 1968

Director: Dino di Laurentiis

Stars: Jane Fonda, Anita Pallenberg, John Phillip Law, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau.

Another of those films which that could only have been made in the one decade, Barbarella is a delightful trip through a peace-loving and war-free 41st Century, as Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (as close to a secret agent as the 41st Century appears to have) travels to Tau Ceti to locate a missing professor and prevent his newly invented weapon falling into the hands of someone who might use it.

Cue skimpy costumes that seem to fall off at a whim, the rediscovery of sex the old-fashioned way, and some spot-on psychedelic imagery and music that firmly sets this in a sixties vision of the future.

And this is all deliberate. Roger Vadim, the producer (and at the time Jane Fonda’s husband) set out to make a film that was primarily character-driven, with the innocent and vaguely naive Barbarella at the centre. As such there’s little in the way of technology or huge effects, and plenty of wildly camp characters over-acting at every single opportunity.

Barbarella is therefore not notable for acting, script, plot or surprises. However, as an experience, it’s groovy…

Master Of The World

Year: 1961

Director: William Witney

Stars: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

An idealistic pacifist and inventor Robur determines to beat nations into non-aggression, by threatening their destruction from on high if they don’t immediately disarm.

An interesting and definitely stylised film set in the 1860s, it’s pretty much 20,000 Leagues ABOVE The Sea, with Price wonderfully sinister and captivating in the role of Robur / Nemo. In his flying machine, he plans a utopian world below, where any desire or capability for war is beaten out of the nations by the fear of his awesome firepower. Things come unstuck for him when he abducts a group of Americans who discover his plans: an arms manufacturer, his daughter, her fiancee (a bit of a hot-headed idealist himself) and a US Government agent. Whilst being held so that they do not reveal any of Robur’s plan, they slowly plot to prevent the emasculation or destruction of the world.

Price is the main draw here, of course, but Bronson is good as Strock, the US agent whose intent is to prevent Robur carrying out his violent plans. The rest of the cast are OK in an early sixties b-movie way, and the scenery and effects can most generously be described as ‘stock’. They certainly didn’t extend much in the way of budget, and indeed there’s a definite feel of Adam West’s Batman movie about the scenery and costumes.

It’s fun and inoffensive enough, but a certain Sunday afternoon movie, nothing more.

How To Murder Your Wife

Year: 1965

Director: Richard Quine

Stars: Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, Terry-thomas

Stanley, a syndicated cartoonist and confirmed bachelor finds himself married after a drunken party. Whilst his new wife is beautiful and sexy, she is also Italian and speaks no English.  Now despite her obvious charms, married life doesn’t sit well with Stanley, as his entire world changes overnight. His routine (wake when his valet Charles prompts him, shower, breakfast, work, gymnasium, a quick drink in his favourite bar, then back home to dinner and a perfectly chilled martini – either alone or with whatever young lady catches his eye) is completely thrown out the window. For one thing, Charles never works for married men, and promptly hands in his notice.

As Stanley’s life is turned upside down, he and Charles start musing on a way to return life to its previous blissful state. Things take a sinister turn, and when she disappears, the finger points towards murder…

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How To Murder Your Wife is a lovely comedy about the challenges men experience with – and without – the controlling hand of a wife. Jack Lemmon shows excellent comic timing as the determined yet down-trodden Stanley, Terry-thomas is simply his wonderful self as Charles, the suave, debonair and crafty gentleman’s personal gentleman, and Virna Lisi is perfectly gorgeous from the moment she pops out of the cake and her eyes meet Stanley’s gaze.

Blessed with cliches and a supporting cast who wring every ounce of humour from the script, this is one of the sixties’ finest and best.

Eegah!

Year: 1962

Director: Arch Hall Sr.

Stars: Arch Hall Sr., Arch Hall Jr., Marilyn Manning, Richard Kiel.

On the surface, this is typical sixties B-movie fare – a spoilt rich-kid dolly bird driving her lovely convertible through the California desert nearly crashes into a giant caveman character who appears out of nowhere. The said dolly bird’s boyfriend (a terrible wannabe popstar) and her father go to hunt him down, the caveman captures the dolly bird and the father, and before the conclusion, she undergoes some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and starts to care for him, all to no avail.

Yeah, it sounds pretty crappy. And in truth, it IS pretty crappy. But does it deserve it’s place at number 48 on IMDB’s all-time worst movies?

Well….. yes, probably. But it’s a bit of a mix, to be honest.  Let’s start with the bad news…

Arch Hall Jr. is utterly terrible as Tom, the apparent ‘hero’, with his abysmal acting, his excremental singing, and his godawful hairstyle. If you needed evidence of just how far Daddy would go to try and give his son the career he so richly didn’t deserve, this is it. From his dire songs, to his unbelievably bad action man poses, via his total lack of timing when delivering any line whatsoever, he’s a walking joke and thankfully we’re not sitting on a big back catalogue of his films.

Arch Hall Sr. is pretty underused, but seeing as he was director, producer, story writer, financier, and provided many of the non-desert locations, I guess it’s a mercy he didn’t do much on screen. He’s basically playing himself – a rich, privileged bloke who thinks he can do whatever he likes, because he has money and a name. Shame he’s not better at acting himself on screen.

Marilyn Manning went on to have just three roles in all, and she really couldn’t have harmed her fledgling career any more terminally than to have appeared in this shocker. Learning her ‘craft’ in front of the camera isn’t a wise idea, as she shows her lack of talent and experience every time she moves, or opens her mouth.

And now we come to the ‘good stuff’. Richard Kiel’s performance of Eegar is actually not that bad. For someone who was cast basically for his seven-foot-plus-change frame, he showed the mark of a good actor by making the most of his role, and manages to win over the audience with some pathos and humour. As the only person to emerge from this dross with a career, he’s done pretty well.

I’m still duty bound to give this a maximum of 4/10, but Kiel earns at least three of those points.

2001: a Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

2001: A Space Odyssey

Short review: the bigger the screen, the better the film.

OK, let’s build on that a little, because otherwise it may be a little confusing.

Kubrick’s 1968 opus is basically the story of a series of black slabs, found by pre-sapien hominids on Earth, then by lunar explorers, then finally in orbit around Jupiter. What these slabs are, and where they come from, is never explained, however they book-end the tale of the US Spacecraft Discovery One, it’s five-man crew, and Hal, the HAL-9000 computer that controls the ship’s functions.

The core of the film shows us what happens when the two crewmen not in hibernation for the trip discover that Hal is malfunctioning. The fight for their lives and to wrest control of the ship from the computer is the exciting bit, albeit slower paced than it might have been. The rest of it, namely the bits with the slabs is confusing and – to be absolutely honest – needless. In fact, it only serves but a single purpose, and that’s where we know it’s a Kubrick film. It sets the scale of the long-shots.

There are so many long, lingering shots of slow-moving spacecraft, men walking through corridors, planets in orbit, that you soon realise that another director – maybe one less obsessed with the visually spectacular – would easily have cut the film down from it’s overly long 142 minutes (the world premier actually ran to 161 minutes) to something around the hour mark.

So we have a movie where more than half the screen time is taken up with ‘the Kubrick effect’ and that’s something that simply doesn’t transfer adequately to the TV screen.  It’s like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where they used the excuse of a transporter malfunction to allow Scotty and Kirk a long, loving shuttle-pod ride around the Enterprise in spacedock. Nice on the big screen, but not necessary and – on a smaller TV screen – more than a little underwhelming.

So – 2001. Visually stunning in the right setting, and nearly half the film is ok, if a little plodding. But if you don’t see it in an IMAX cinema, then don’t be surprised if you give up midway through.

Radio Days

Year: 1987

Director: Woody Allen

Stars: Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Diane Wiest, Wallace Shawn, Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Seth Green

 

It’s a confusing time for Joe. Not only has he just hit his teens, but he lives in a stereotypical extended Jewish household in what appears to be a New York City suburb mainly populated with gentiles, and World War II has just broken out.

Radio Days tells the story of Joe’s observations. His parents have a marriage where their affection for each other rarely surfaces, his grandparents are always there, his aunts and uncles appear to be as disfunctional as everybody else, and there’s the burgeoning hormone issue to deal with.

The one thing that connects every character in the movie is the radio. Everyone has their favourite show, whether it’s dance music, sports broadcasts, radio plays, big bands, or entertainment shows – the radio is always on.

Now I’m a big Woody Allen fan, and as the narrator, he describes the on screen activity with particular emphasis on the character’s thoughts and motivations.

My issue is that there’s very little binding this all together.

It’s clearly a very well crafted movie, but it comes across as an exercise in the film maker’s craft more than something to be engaged with, entertained by, or enchanted by. There are so many ‘main’ characters, you rarely get to see any of them in enough depth to have any real empathy or connection with them. The closest I came was with Mia Farrow’s role as sally, a would-be actress and radio star, who initially gets stuck in a dead-end job as a cigarette girl in a club, and whose big break comes along after the realisation that her voice is whiny and gratingly ‘New Yoick’.

Woody Allen has made many films that I return to regularly. I doubt this one will get a return viewing very soon.

Annie Hall

Year – 1977
Director – Woody Allen
Stars – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon

Early Woody Allen movies followed a predictable path – some slapstick, some convoluted dialogue, plenty of opportunities for Allen to not have sex, and somewhere, buried deep down, a commentary on the social setting. They were the same, whether we are talking of revolutionary Russia (Love and Death), the future (Sleeper) or military coups in small South American countries (Bananas).

And then along came Annie Hall.

Annie Hall tells the story of Alvy Singer, a short, neurotic, bespectacled comic, who meets and falls in love with a ditzy would-be cabaret singer, the titular Annie. The story of their relationship is played out on the canvas of their friends, Alvy’s ex-wives, and Manhattan of the mid-seventies. As the pair evolve, they grow both closer together and further apart, when Alvy’s neuroses and Annie’s growing self-confidence pull them in different directions.

As with all of Woody Allen’s movies, the skill is in the dialogue, the performances and the feel of the movie. There’s a helplessness in pretty much everything Allen does, where no matter how hard he tries you get the impression life will kick him in the ass anyway. True he plays himself in pretty much every movie he’s ever made, but he always comes across as likeable despite the knots into which he ties himself.

Annie Hall has an excellent supporting cast, with bit-parts for Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum and Sigourney Weaver.

Aside from Allen’s genius, the real plaudits must go to Diane Keaton. Her performance deservedly won her the Best Actress Oscar, to sit alongside Best Film, Best Director (Allen), and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman). Only Richard Dreyfuss’ excellent work on The Goodbye Girl prevented a clean sweep of the top five Academy Awards, in a year when there was another little movie in the running. Called Star Wars

WestWorld

It’s far too long since I wrote any reviews, so high time I caught up. There have been loads of movies, television shows, and albums that have warranted a review, so let’s start off with…

WestWorld

Year: 1973

Director: Michael Crichton

Stars: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

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Set in the near future, WestWorld is one of a trio of holiday destinations at the resort of Delos. In MedievalWorld, you can indulge yourself at the court of the king, with knights, jousting, wenches, feasting and carousing. RomanWorld places you in pre-Christian Rome, allowing you to indulge yourself fully in the excesses of the time, whilst WestWorld places you in the land of outlaws, rustlers, saloon girls and duels. At each of them, for a thousand dollars a day, you can indulge yourself completely, including fights to the death, as the resort is populated by androids so lifelike you can barely tell them from humans.

Peter (Benjamin)  and John (Brolin) have chosen WestWorld, and after settling in they are soon well into the swing of things, twice bettering the Gunslinger (Brynner) who is programmed to provoke them into action, but never to actually harm them.

Until something strange starts happening to the androids. A computer glitch – similar to an infectious virus – begins affecting the way the androids behave, and this comes to a head when, drawing against the Gunslinger once more, John is shot and killed. Peter realises that the android is after him, and runs for his life, pursued by the murderous machine through the other worlds and down into the control tunnels underneath the resort. On his own, he needs to find some way of defeating the android before he becomes its next victim…

Westworld was written and directed by Michael Crichton years before he gave us Jurassic Park, and the similarities between the two movies are clear. In both, the human visitors have to fight for survival against all odds, and against an enemy that can’t be reasoned with. Jurassic Park has the advantage of dinosaurs and 90s CGI. WestWorld relies on good acting, real tension, and what was, at the time, some ground-breaking digital effects. And it does the job very well. The three leads all bring something different to the movie: Brolin is an experienced, devil-may-care adventurer, Benjamin a naive, first-timer with very natural fears and excitement, and it’s interesting to see Yul Brynner, dressed in the same costume he wore as the hero in The Magnificent Seven, playing the role of the implacable, unstoppable baddie.

WestWorld is a movie that has stood the test of time very well, despite some of the ‘futuristic’ computer equipment being very much the 70s idea of future tech. The story is strong, the performances compelling, and the tension works well – the fear of the unstoppable foe that simply won’t give up the chase is brilliantly played out by Brynner.

A real seventies classic.

Electric Dreams

Year: 1984

Director: Steve Barron

Stars: Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, Bud Cort

Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen) is a bit of a nerd. In fact he’s the quintessential 80s nerd, an over-intelligent architect who is trying to invent ‘The Earthquake-Proof Brick’. A smart guy…

Well, almost. He’s not great with computers. He’s not really great at life, as it happens. So when one of his colleagues convinces him he needs ‘organizing’, he buys himself a computer, connects it to all the gadgets in his house, and like all wannabe computer geeks, sets about running his entire house from the comfort of his swivel chair.

All goes well, until he accidentally overloads the computer with data from his office mainframe. Trying to put out the fire, he spills champagne over the keyboard. There’s some violent interaction between bubbles and circuitry, and, when he switches the system back after drying it out, Edgar (the computer, voiced by Bud Cort) comes strangely to life.

After a few initial doubts, Miles is fine with this and indeed comes to like it. That is, until cello player Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves into the apartment upstairs.

Things begin to get out of hand when Miles falls in love with Madeline. Edgar, left alone in the apartment during the work day soon follows suit and seduces Madeline by accompanying her cello practice. Miles gets Edgar to write a love song for Madeline, in which Edgar pours out his silicon heart. In surely the strangest love triangle ever made, Madeline believes that her wonderful musical muse is Miles, whilst we all know better. A jealous clash is brewing. How can Miles win Madeline from a competitor she doesn’t know is there? What will Edgar do next to try to get the edge over Miles?

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If you haven’t seen the movie, then all this probably sounds rather pitiful. And it would be, were it not for fine performances from the under-rated Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen. The emphasis here is definitely on ‘heart’ and ‘style’ and this magical urban fairy tale is laced with some of the best pop music ever written for a movie. It’s also very well photographed and a bit surreal in places. A bit like a long pop video, which I’m sure is what mean-spirited critics would say about it.

There are also many little details that the scriptwriters used in the movie, which pre-dates the Personal Computer era, but cleverly predicts the hassles man would have with his silicon friends. An example is when Miles mis-types his name as ‘Moles’ during an initial setup screen and Edgar, the computer, refers to him by that name for the rest of the movie! (not much has changed since, in computer setup software, it would seem!).

I remember seeing this movie in London when it first came out, when computers were still unusual and fascinatingly, big clunky boxes with built in keyboards, and when Bill Gates was still just some guy with glasses in Connecticut or somewhere… Well, ok, Bill was actually already in there, but he wasn’t the household name that he is today.

The Apple II, Commodore 64 and TRS80 were still being sold through specialist outlets, running with their own versions of DOS and memory measured in a few K, not GigaBytes.

This movie was good on several levels, the love story was well crafted, the soundtrack is superb (Giorgio Moroder at his best) and Virginia Madsen looked marvellous (very much like a friend of mine years later – when I first met her, she reminded me of this movie immediately). The technology obviously dates the movie, but the ideas on how to expand the use of computers are still valid today. If you can, catch the movie whenever it’s on.

FAQ About Time Travel

Year: 2009

Director: Gareth Carrivick

Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Mark Wootton, Dean Lennox Kelly, Anna Faris

Every now and then, a small-budget, small-scope film comes along and puts the mega-million blockbusters to shame. For me, FAQ about Time Travel is one such film.

It’s a simple story of three friends. Ray (O’Dowd) is a self-declared ‘imagineer’ (or what we would call a nerd), interested in his science fiction, his fantasies, and his desire for life to be more exciting than skipping from one dead-end job to another. Toby (Wootton) is a dreamer, constantly writing new ideas for movie plots in his little book, and desperately hoping one will be the idea that changes his life. Pete (Kelly) is the cynic of the bunch, constantly belittling the dreams of the other two, but in truth craving the company of his friends in his equally pointless life.

During a typical evening at the pub, Ray is approached by Cassie (Faris), who tells him a tale almost designed to appeal – she’s a time-traveller, sent across the centuries to fix a ‘time-leak’ and who couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet “Ray The Great”. Before he can fathom out whether she’s telling the truth (but not before embarrassing himself totally) she’s gone, and he returns to his friends to thank them for ‘setting the thing up’. They of course deny it and think Ray’s making the whole thing up, but as the evening progresses, the three are caught up in a series of leaps through time via the time-leak (which turns out to be an uncontrolled portal sending them back and forth through time, located inside the men’s toilets).

Cassie reappears to explain things to Ray, and eventually the three get back to the present, only to be confronted by an Editor – a rogue time traveler changing the future by killing people just after their most famous work. And somehow, this is the time for our three heroes, based on an idea of Toby’s……

O’Dowd is the lead character in the film, and brings a very similar style to that of The IT Crowd’s Roy. Wootton is great as the slightly spaced-out Toby, and Kelly brings a welcome warmth to the cynical Pete that his performances in Shameless would benefit from. Faris is suitably pretty and ditzy as Cassie, and this works well, as a more confident, forceful performance would have been too overpowering against the three male leads.

Produced by BBC Films, FAQ About Time Travel is a gentle, humorous and very enjoyable film, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments and a great outcome for all involved.

* Contains moderate bad language

High Road To China

Director: Brian G Hutton

Year: 1983

Stars: Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilfred Brimley, Brian Blessed, Robert Morley

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Imagine Indiana Jones with a big old moustache, flying goggles and a drink problem. In fact, imagine Tom Selleck in the role. Because that’s what we nearly got, until they realised that Selleck’s commitments to shooting Magnum PI got in the way. Harrison Ford picked up the role, and the rest is history.

History sometimes shows us what we missed out on though, and this is where High Road To China comes in. Some people say that this movie was given to Selleck as consolation for missing out before, and in the way he plays Patrick O’Malley, you can kind of see how his Indy would have turned out.

The basic story is as follows: it’s the early part of the 20th Century. and there’s these two businessmen, one an inventing genius (Bradley Tozer) and one a big money man (Bentik). Tozer goes missing when out in the Far East, and Bentik sees an opportunity to grab their company and all the cash by having his partner declared legally dead. To prevent this, Tozer’s society-girl daughter Evie needs to find him and get him before a British court before the end of the month. The only way she can get there is by hiring O’Malley, a former Air Force pilot and current flying instructor whose skills are legendary with plane and with the ladies – when he can stay sober, that is.

As Evie, O’Malley and engineer Struts journey from Paris to China, they have to battle natives, German fighter pilots, and chinese warlords on the long journey, where hopefully they will find Evie’s father still alive and willing to help them.

Selleck is actually pretty good in the role of the drunken Irish-American hero, and his growing relationship with Evie as they fly along works well due to his obstinance and her feisty attitude. The supporting actors are a key part of the charm, with Robert Morley as the slimy Bentik, and Brian Blessed as the native chief Suleman Khan the stand outs.

There were a number of Indy impersonators around at the time, and this one is the best of the bunch. Probably because only the hawaiian shirt and Ferrari kept him away from the fedora in the first place.

Being John Malkovich

Year: 1999

Director: Spike Jonze

Stars: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Charlie Sheen

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We all dream of being someone else once in a while, of seeing life through someone else’s eyes. For out-of-work puppeteer Craig Schwarz, this became a reality. When necessity (and his wife Lotte) dictate that he get a ‘proper’ job, he ends up working for Lestercorp, in a small – and I mean small – office on the 7½th floor of a Manhattan office block. There he finds a hidden door, which opens to a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich….

At the same time Craig becomes infatuated by his colleague Maxine, who – on hearing of the portal – sees the commercial opportunity right away and starts up in business with Craig charging two hundred bucks a time for people to spend their 15 minutes inside John Malkovich before being spat out onto the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Trouble starts when Lotte tries it – at the same time that Maxine starts an affair with Malkovich. Their actions become an obsession – they fall into a love affair that can only be fulfilled whilst Maxine has sex with the Lotte-inhabited Malkovich. But then Malkovich gets suspicious and discovers their little game…

Spike Jonze’s movie is one of the most original, unique movies of recent years. It’s a very dark comedy, full of surreal situations and bizzare plot twists. However, at its heart this is a character-driven movie. Cusack plays Craig with such a pathetic, helpless kind of obsession that even his most extreme behaviour seems totally appropriate for him. Diaz’s portrayal of Lotte shows a woman uncomfortable with life and people, and who looks for escape where she can find it, in the simpler needs of the many animals they own, and then in the more complex love quadrangle between herself, Craig, Maxine, and the unwitting Malkovich. Maxine is played very well by Keener, at first brash, hard-nosed and arrogant; she softens as the movie progresses as her own insecurities and frailty are revealed. And what of John Malkovich? He’s shown as a parody of his real persona, but not held to ridicule – he’s the ultimate victim in all of this, as is revealed when the movie reaches its climax and the true nature of the portal is explained.

Charlie Kaufman deservedly won accolades for his very claver script, and Spike Jonze directs the cast with skill and intelligence, wringing just the right amount of pathos and humour out of their performances.

Being John Malkovich is a movie unlike any other – and needs to be seen to be understood.

Note: Contains frequent strong language and occasional violence and sexual scenes.

Ghostbusters

Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, when there’s something weird and it don’t look good, an invisible man sleeping in your bed, when you’re seeing things running through your head, who ya gonna call?

That’s right, the source of one of movie history’s most bizarrely successful franchises: Ghostbusters!

In 1984, the franchising world was overtaken by Ghostbusters fever, with the theme song by Ray Parker Jr hitting the top of the charts the world over, and images and toys emerged on the market that are still being peddled to this day.

The movie itself is fun and original. Murray, Ackroyd and Ramis play three parapsychologists (that’s ‘ghosthunters’ to you and I) who are in the gig for different reasons: Whilst Egon Spengler (Ramis) is deadly serious, Ray Stantz (Ackroyd) loves the university life just as much as the kooky science, and Peter Venkman (Murray) knows it’s a great way to get girls, safe in the knowledge that there’s no such thing as ghosts.

Then a real, spooky, actual ghost appears at the public library….

Just as they get their breakthrough, they are kicked off campus and are forced to set up in business doing all they find themselves qualified for – ghost hunting. After they catch a spook in a New York hotel, they become instant stars, recruit a fourth employee called Winston (Hudson) to help with the workload, and are called in by Dana Barrett (Weaver) after she sees strange things in her apartment.

Egon and Ray discover that the plans for her building include metalwork that somehow acts as an ‘antenna’ to attract the spirits of ancient Sumerian spirits, but before they can get to the building they are thrown in jail, apparently for contravening ‘Environmental Safety’ regulations. The moronic ESA guy shuts the power to the Ghost Containment field, which releases scores of captured spooks into the city.

Meanwhile, Dana and her geeky neighbour (Moranis) have been possessed by the Sumerian Spirits and are on the verge of releasing the evil Gozer, when our heroes arrive in the nick of time to save the day….

Ghostbusters quickly became one of the 80s’ box office success stories, making it’s $30 million budget back in a little over a week. The stars of the show are brilliant, each bringing elements of their own flawed characters to the roles. Murray in particular comes across as very much improvising much of his mannerisms and speech, drawing on his Saturday Night Live experience to the full.

The effects are cool, the script funny, the supporting cast (which at some points seem to include most of the New York public) throw themselves in with gusto, and in hindsight it’s not hard to see why the franchise movement took off as it did.

Overall, Ghostbusters marks a milestone in movie history. Pretty much everyone has seen it. for those who have not, waddya waitin’ for?

Johnny Dangerously!

Year: 1984
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Michael Keaton, Marilu Henner, Joe Piscopo, Griffin Dunne, Peter Boyle, Danny Devito, Maureen Stapleton

It’s the 1930’s and we find kind-hearted, good-natured Johnny Kelly (Keaton) at work in his pet shop. Johnny is a bit like Dr Doolittle: he talks to the animals, feeds them regularly, and above all, tries to turn an honest dollar.

One day, he catches a kid trying to steal a puppy, and as punishment the kid is forced to sit and listen to Johnny’s tale – a tale of crime, glamour, and adventure…..

Turns out that Johnny’s mother (Stapleton) is a typical irish washerwoman, who also happens to be a hypochondriac. She’s always needing money to pay for the treatment she feels she needs and so, while his studious brother Tommy (Dunne) studies law, Johnny goes out to work. He gets caught up with local gang boss Jock Dundee (Boyle) when needing a few extra bucks for his mother. Tagging along on a raid on a rival casino, he manages to snatch the raid from the jaws of failure and turn it into a glorious success. His future is secured – but not as honest Johnny Kelly, but under his new name – Johnny Dangerously!

Time progresses and whilst Johnny makes enemies, such as the slimy Danny Vermin (Piscopo), he also makes friends, especially Lil (Henner) a singer in Dundee’s club who is curvier than a very, very curvy thing. Stars, flowers, rainbows, and soon they are married and living in magnificent splendour. Johnny always stays one step ahead of the law and his family – a task that becomes even harder when brother Tommy becomes District Attorney after turning in his boss the DA (Devito) for fraud and embezzlement. Johnny can’t let his family know what he does for a living, despite the close attentions of Tommy, the new DA – it would kill his mother.

When Jock Dundee is nearly killed by a booby-trap bomb in his toilet, Johnny takes over the gang, and tries hard to turn them all legit. But this is not enough for Danny Vermin, who shops Johnny to his brother the DA, and takes over the gang whilst Johnny is sent to death row, framed for murder.

Will Johnny escape in time to foil Danny Vermin’s plot to kill Tommy and rule the city by fear? Only watching the end of the movie will tell!

Johnny Dangerously! is undoubtably one for watching whilst wearing a corset. There are sight gags from start to finish, the strangest situations and incredible dialogue that really should be locked away, never to be quoted again! It’s very much along the lines of the Police Squad/Airplane/Top Secret type of movie and this is helped by some great performances, particularly by Joe Piscopo as the extremely nasty Danny Vermin. Danny DeVito is also very good in a cameo role and look out for Dom DeLuise as the Pope.

It’s a laugh a minute, and then some. If you like sight gags, then this is the movie for you.

No Way Out

Year:1987
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, Howard Duff

Lt. Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) is a career Navy man, whose heroic rescue of a colleague aboard a stricken ship earns him a position at the Pentagon, working for Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman).

At a presidential dinner he meets Susan Atwell (Young) and they begin an affair. It is only when love has blossomed that he discovers that Susan is also the mistress of his boss, Brice. When Brice discovers that Susan is seeing someone else, he flies into a jealous rage. During the ensuing struggle, Susan falls to her death.

To cover his tracks, Brice and his ‘devoted’ aide (Patton) create a cover story about a suspected KGB ‘mole’ working within the Pentagon, and appoint Farrell to head up the official hunt for the man, who Brice asserts had been the man Susan had been seeing, and who is responsible for her murder.

This, of course puts Farrell in a terrible situation – he needs to work on uncovering the ‘mole’, whilst hiding all traces of his feelings for Susan and his grief at her death. Indeed, you’d think that his situation couldn’t get any worse…

And then a damaged Polaroid negative is found by the CIA investigators in Susan’s apartment. They believe that computer enhancement will reveal the face of the KGB fugitive. Farrell knows that sooner or later, it’s his face that will be revealed on the negative!

So begins a race against time for Farrell. There is (as the title suggests) ‘no way out’ other than to expose one of the most powerful men in Washington as a murderer. Whilst the CIA get closer to Farrell, Farrell gets closer and closer to the truth about Susan’s death. And all the time in the lab, the computer enhancement of the photo gets less and less blurred…

No Way Out is a very tense thriller. I first saw this movie in 1988, whilst waiting for a flight. It’s one of those movies that slowly draws you in and then you find you have to carry on till the surprisingly effective end.

Costner is good in this, probably because he didn’t direct it and therefore his ‘artistic visions’ do not affect the action. Hackman is excellent as always and Young is her usual OK self. The highlight, however, is the very strong cast of minor actors, who combine to create a very real and very realistic backdrop to the main action.

Krull

Year: 1983
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Brenard Bresslaw, Francesca Annis, Liam Neeson, Todd Carty, David Battley, Robbie Coltrane


Krull – a beautiful world, but one damaged by hostilities between nations. All of the conflict was forgotten when the Slayers arrived, led by the indescribable monster that lived in The Black Fortress.

In order to combat this new threat, an alliance is reached, and will be sealed by the marriage of Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) and Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall). The wedding is almost complete, when the castle is attacked by the Slayers and despite desperate fighting, they manage to kidnap Princess Lyssa and carry her off to the Black Fortress. Colwyn vows to trek to The Black Fortress, find her and rescue her.

Now this could be a problem.

You see, the Black Fortress moves overnight. It just vanishes and reappears somewhere else. So, in order to know the location of the fortress, Colwyn has to first gain the foresight of the Seer. In this, he is fortunate to have the guidance of Ynyr (Freddie Jones) who accompanies him on his quest. Before they can find the Seer, they first need two other things: more men (for they will certainly meet the Slayers again in combat); and the Glave, a weapon that’s kind of like a five-bladed throwing star, that Colwyn will need to defeat the monster. The Glave is in a high cave on top of a mountain, sat in a pool of molten rock. Tough as that sounds, the men are even more difficult to gather together.

There’s Ergo The Magnificent (“short in stature, tall in power, wide of vision, and narrow of purpose”, played by David Battley, who many will remember as the rather slimy school-teacher in Willy Wonka); Bernard Bresslaw as Rell, a Cyclops who is cursed by knowing the date of his death and therefore keeps his own company but is always around when you really need him, and a group of bandits that Colwyn manages to enlist. These include cameos from Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, and Todd Carty, who UK readers will know from EastEnders and as Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill.

After an arduous trek through the forest they find the Seer, who gives them the location of the Black Fortress, and then leads them towards it. Following a brush with Francesca Annis as the Widow of the Web (a spider-woman with a taste for male flesh) the group come face to face with The Slayers, and battle commences.

Finally, after evading The Slayer forces, they arrive at the Fortress. They have to get inside before dark, else it will leave them behind and their quest is finished forever. This they manage to do, but only at the expense of Rell, who manages to force open a crack in the rocks and holds it open long enough for the others to enter, but then is crushed.

Inside, the monster tries many tricks to separate the gang, but they finally arrive in the centre of the Fortress for the final showdown. Colwyn must kill the monster, find Princess Lyssa and get out of the Fortress before it is destroyed…

Many of the reviewers of this movie at IMDB are polarised about this typically 80s swords and sorcery offering – they are either totally for the movie, or totally against it, with one even suggesting that Krull is a great cure for insomnia! I kind of fall between the two – it’s a good movie, where the performances are generally adequate, the music score is standard fare and the location shooting is much better than the studio stuff (and it’s easy to tell the two apart – much easier than it should be).

However, this approach ignores the strengths that the movie does possess – a better than average story, and some of the performances are great, particularly from David Battley as Ergo the Magnificent. He plays the simple country magician extremely well, refusing to allow the fact that he’s a poor magician to stand in the way of his desire to impress people. Bernard Bresslaw is never stretched in the role of Rell the cyclops, but it’s good to see him playing a straighter role than he ever got in a Carry On movie. The movie also contains small roles for a host of actors that have gone on to bigger and better things – Liam Neeson (Schindlers List, Michael Collins, Rob Roy, and a small thing called Phantom…. something or other); Robbie Coltrane (The Pope Must Die, Nuns On The Run, several Bond flicks and something about a boy wizard – now what was his name?); and Todd Carty (very well known in the UK for his roles as Mark Fowler in Eastenders and the unforgettable Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill)

As for the leading players, Ken Marshall saw too many heroic movies before playing this one, Lysette Anthony is beautiful and sexy, but as far as acting goes, rumours of her talent have been greatly overstated. Freddie Jones is good, but is limited to a few wise words and knowing glances as he guides Marshall through the maze.

Overall, it’s an OK flick. If you get the chance to watch it again, do try. But don’t be too upset if you miss it.

Carry On Matron

Year: 1972
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Cope, Barbara Windsor, Terry Scott, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Margaret Nolan

By 1972, the Carry On team were very familiar with hospitals, having already made both Doctors and Nurse, as well as scenes in many of the other movies. However, this one was a small departure for the gang, as the plot didn’t revolve around the day to day medical activities, so much as a dastardly plot to steal vast quantities of contraceptive pills, for sale to the Third World.

Sid James was the patriarch of the gang, but it was Kenneth Cope (he of Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased fame) that became the main ‘male’ character, joining the staff at Finisham Maternity Hospital as Student Nurse ‘Cyrille’ Carter. And what a baptism of fire he gets. Having escaped the clutches of the lecherous Dr Prodd (a typically saucy role for Terry Scott) he finds himself rooming with Barbara Windsor’s Nurse Susan Ball. All this when he was told to ‘keep your head down and find out where they store the pills’.

Of course this is impossible, and when Cyril inadvertantly becomes front-page news when he delivers a movie-star’s triplets, his father Sid goes to the hospital to find him. But he’d already been there a few times before, and Matron (Hattie Jacques – who else!) becomes suspicious, and the big chase scene ensues through the nurses home and various occupied bathrooms.

Whilst all this is going on, and the night of the raid approaches, Cyril and Susan fall for each other, which further complicates matters. Will they get away with it? No, of course they won’t, because in the movies, and especially in the Carry On world, thieves never prosper. However, it’s worth watching to see what they can mess up next!

Carry On Matron is a fun, frothy, innuendo-laden movie, with possibly Terry Scott’s finest Carry On role as the very aptly-named Dr Prodd. The whole thing plays as a challenge – how many prenancy-related jokes can Talbot Rothwell shoehorn into a 90-minute script, how many illnesses can Kenneth Williams’ Sir Bernard Cutting believe he has, and how many lines can they wring out of Kenneth Connor’s plight, as the expectant father of a child so unwilling to make an appearance. The robbery angle almost becomes a side issue until the final scenes, such is the sheer volume of plot that we get to enjoy.

Carry On Screaming

Year: 1966
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Harry H. Corbett, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Bernard Bresslaw, Fenella Fielding, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas

The sixties was the heyday for the Hammer Studios, and as such it was only a matter of time before the Carry On crew took a shot at them. The result is one of the funniest and most successful of the series.

One of the few not starring Sid James, the lead here goes instead to Harry H. Corbett, and you have to say that his role as Detective Sergeant Bung is arguably better than Sid James would have given. Ably assisted by Peter Butterworth as Constable Slobotham, Bung is on the case of the missing women – six having disappeared from the same spot inside a year. With their typically sharp deduction, they believe that there just might be a connection…

When Jim Dale’s girlfriend is taken from the same spot in Hockum Woods, the attention is soon focused on the old house inhabited by Dr Watt (Kenneth Williams), his sister Valeria (a sultry Fenella Fielding) and their butler Sockett (a very straight-faced Bernard Bresslaw). They are the undead, of course, but the way we discover this, and get to the finale (via some far fetched jokes, some incredible overacting, and very clever use of the sets and techniques of the Hammer Studios) is a joy to behold.

And it’s the attention to detail that makes the movie stand out – at first glance it IS a Hammer movie. And at second glance too. But this is also very much a Carry On, and is the best horror genre spoof you’ll ever see.

Carry On Regardless

Year: 1961
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Bill Owen, Liz Fraser, Terence Longdon, Esma Cannon, Stanley Unwin

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As far as Carry On films go, Carry On Regardless is a little unique. All of the other outings for the team over the years delivered a strong storyline, flowing from one scene to the next, and things just… fitted. Regardless is far more a series of separate sketches, linked together by a common start point, namely the office of the ‘Helping Hands’ agency. and while these sketches are all very funny in their own right, somehow this makes the film itself feel more than a little disjointed.

Sid James is Bert Handy, owner of the agency, and his staff all come from the unemployment office (except the delightfully dotty Esma Cannon as Miss Cooling, his devoted secretary.) Displaying as they do a talent for not holding down a steady job, they are ideal for the more unusual assignments that Helping Hands seems to attract, like escorting pet chimpanzees for walkies, greeting guests at a wine-tasting event (Joan Sims is excellent as the quickly-sozzled Lily), and the babysitting job that turns out to be a ‘make husband jealous’ task for Kenneth Connor, although to be fair he probably resisted Fenella Fielding’s charms a little too much to be convincing.

As the film progresses slowly towards its inevitable calamitous conclusion, it’s easy to forget the sketches that have gone before. As I said, good as they are they are a little too disjointed to really work well together.

Overall, an enjoyable 90 minutes, but a 90 minutes you can take in bite-sized chunks without losing too much of the plot.

Carry On Loving

Year: 1970
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Terry Scott, Jacki Piper, Joan Sims, Richard O’Callaghan, Imogen Hassall, Bernard Bresslaw

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During the late 60s/early 70s, the Carry On team put out two movies a year, and a Christmas special. Given that all the stars also had other work on as well, it’s remarkable that the standards remained as high as they did. ‘Loving’ is no exception.

Sid James and Hattie Jacques run the Wedded Bliss Marital Agency, where they use the most high-tech equipment to ensure their clients meet the partner of their dreams. Only it’s not so simple. For starters, Sid and Hattie aren’t actually married – whilst Sidney Bliss refers to her as his loving and devoted wife, Hattie is actually Miss Sophie Plummer. All they have is an ‘understanding’ – and one that lets Sid keep back all the best girls on the books for himself, including Joan Sims’s Esme Crowfoot. Even the computer is a fake – the card input slot feeds straight through to the next room, where Sophie selects the best ‘match’ from a card index and shoves it through another slot back to Sid.

Their clients are no better – especially Terry Scott, who is obviously only looking to get his leg over, and Richard O’Callaghan, who is looking to impress his girl with his collection of model aircraft made from milk bottle tops. Hardly a crack outfit.

When Sophie gets fed up with Sid’s behaviour, she goes to two places for help – Charles Hawtrey’s detective agency, and Kenneth Williams’s marriage guidance office – at just the time when Ken has been warned to find a wife or face the sack!

Meanwhile, Richard O’Callaghan gets a shock when he accidently mistakes Jacki Piper’s glamour model for his date, and Terry Scott is delighted when his match, Imogen Hassall, turns out not to be so repressed and straight-laced as he thought!

Their tangled love lives all come to a head when Esme’s wrestler boyfriend Gripper Burke (Bernard Bresslaw) comes home from the States, and determines to get the bloke that has been hassling Esme……

This movie has some great lines (“Why is the cat called Cooking Fat?” “Well that’s what it SOUNDS like!”), some brilliant cameos from the minor actors (including Joan Hickson as the elderly Mrs Grubb) and once again polished performances from the stars, all backed by an excellent script by Talbot Rothwell. A worthy part of Britain’s greatest comedy saga.

Carry On Jack

Year: 1963
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Kenneth Williams, Bernard Cribbins, Charles Hawtrey, Juliet Mills, Donald Houston, Jim Dale, Percy Herbert, Patrick Cargill, Cecil Parker, Ed Devereaux, Peter Gilmore, George Woodbridge, Anton Rodgers

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This early entry to the Carry On legacy doesn’t seem to fit the bill for many people. Maybe there were too few of the core team – no Sid James, no Kenneth Connor, no Hattie Jacques. Perhaps it was that this was the first attempt at an historical setting, rather than the contemporary, work-place films that had kicked off the Carry Ons. I’m not sure anyone really knows.

Let’s consider the evidence.

First the plot. It’s around 1800, and naval hostilities against Spain are at their height. Britain needs every man available to crew their warships – even one as inept as Albert Poop-Decker (Bernard Cribbins). Having failed to graduate from Naval Academy seven times, they really can’t wait any longer, and decide to award him his midshipman rank and posting to His Majesty’s frigate Venus. When he gets there, he falls foul firstly of a local girl called Sally (Juliet Mills) who wanted to go to sea in search of her childhood sweetheart, and secondly of the press gang, led by Mr Howett (Donald Houston). He wakes up in the hold of the Venus, next to local cesspit cleaner Walter Sweetley (Charles Hawtrey). It’s not long before he things are made clear to him: his place next to Captain Fearless (Kenneth Williams) has been taken by Sally in disguise, and his days consist of staying clear of trouble as a lowly seaman. Until there is a mutiny, and it’s time to stand up and be counted – both as a sailor and as a man in love….

Now this story has promise, and indeed some of the stars deliver. Williams and Hawtrey are both very good at doing what they are very good at – delivering a line with the right amount of innuendo, timing, and pathos. But once you get past their performances you tend to see the cracks. Cribbins is OK, but in truth he’s far more convincing as the downtrodden victim than the upstanding hero he’s forced to become. Juliet Mills is…. pretty. Which isn’t a quality you’d want in a midshipman (well, not unless you were on an excessively long voyage where even your bunkmates began to look attractive). As a pretend man, it doesn’t really work, and she’s a less convincing crossdresser than Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.

Most of the action takes place on board ship, which is a little confining, and leaves too much emphasis on actors whose performances were below par to begin with.

All in all, whilst there were certainly worse Carry On films (especially towards the end of the series), this was not one of the best efforts, and certainly would have been improved by more of the regulars.

Carry On Henry

Year: 1971
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Terry Scott, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Margaret Nolan

Carry On Henry continues the historical theme running through the series, putting our heroes this time in the court of King Henry VIII. Henry, we learn, had more than the generally accepted six wives, because we never heard of Queen Marie, cousin to King Francis of France, and also of Queen Bettina, whose entrance into court provides the King with a couple of things to handle.

Sid James delights himself in the role of Henry, to the point of nearly installing a turnstile between the executioners block and the altar. But when he realises that his new wife Marie (Joan Sims) is as well known for her love of garlic as she is for her beauty, he insists that she be disposed of, either legally or terminally. Things are made more complicated when the King’s secretary Sir Roger de Lodgerly (Charles Hawtrey) takes his role as the King’s Official Taster too far, and has a nibble at the Queen that results in her pregnancy.

It’s now up to Oliver Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) and Cardinal Wolsey (Terry Scott) to manage the problem, which they appear to be doing, except that Bettina (Barbara Windsor) puts in an appearance as the daughter of the Earl Of Bristol (who else!) and from that moment on Henry has to balance affairs of state and the state of his affairs.

This movie has some truly memorable moments, and some great acting from the mainstays of the Carry On team. But once again it’s Sid James who steals the show, managing to wring every drop of humour from Talbot Rothwell’s marvelous script.

Carry On England

Year: 1976
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Kenneth Connor, Windsor Davies, Joan Sims, Patrick Mower, Judy Geeson, Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth, Peter Jones, Diane Langton, Melvyn Hayes

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children, welcome to – officially – the worst Carry On movie of them all…..

Picture the scene: it’s 1940, and Britain is at war with the nasty Hun. Keeping the Luftwaffe at bay are the brave flying boys of the RAF, ably supported by our Air Defence battalions…. well, all but one. One of the bases along ths South coast is an experimental, mixed-sex battalion. And it’s the mixing of the sexes that causes all the problems – until High Command decide on a new way of dealing with them – sheer incompetence. They pick the worst commanding officer in the RAF, and send him on down to sort things out…….

We learn a few things whilst watching this movie. We learn that Patrick Mower was never cut out for a comedic lead role. We learn that you can’t just lift a couple of stars from ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘ and expect them to work in a movie. We learn that actresses with their tits out doesn’t always raise even a laugh, let alone anything else. And we learn that, sadly, the great days of Carry On had passed.

Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Jack Douglas should really have known better, although Peter Butterworth is funny in what little screen time he has. The others, Patrick Mower and Judy Geeson especially, should really hang their heads in shame (although Patrick Mower says he’s proud to be in the movie, as it’s part of the heritage of British Cinema, and by association so is he.)

I can really sum the movie up, however, by repeating what I feel is the best line in the movie. It’s in the opening credits, and goes as follows: “We would like to thank The Imperial War Museum for the loan of the gun.”

It’s a no-star, one-gag, one-gun movie. And the Gun is funnier than the joke. Not the way I’d want the series to go out.

Carry On Cowboy

Year: 1965
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Jon Pertwee, Percy Herbert, Sydney Bromley, Edina Ronay, Lionel Murton, Peter Gilmore, Davy Kaye, Margaret Nolan

1965 was a quiet year for Carry On movies – the previous year saw three released, and 1966 would see a further two. So this effort was the only thing that Carry On fans had to look forward to. And it’s a pretty good effort.

Filmed entirely in Pinewood Studios and nearby Black Park, this movie tells the story of Stodge City, a town turned from a puritan, temperate ‘paradise’ into a murderous, lawless town when the Sherrif, Albert Earp, is killed by Johnny Finger, a.k.a. The Rumpo Kid. In shades of Blazing Saddles, the call goes out for a new sherrif, and instead of a lawman, the town gets a drainage engineer, in the shape of Marshal P Knutt. Expecting to go ‘clean up the town’, Marshal heads out west, surviving the best efforts of Rumpo, his gang, and their tame indians, led by Chief Big Heap, who will do whatever they ask in return for a steady supply of Fire-water.

Also in town is Annie Oakley, who turns out to be the daughter of the murdered Sherrif and is seeking revenge on ‘the man who shot my pa’. All standard fare as westerns go, but there are some interesting scenes, a few chuckles, and some memorable lines along the way.

Sid James is his usual self as the Rumpo Kid, and I actually like this performance more than most, because he’d probably have made a good cowboy actor on this performance. Jim Dale is spectacularly hapless as the out-of-his-depth lawman, and this helped him to pull off a more than creditable performance as the soppy yet successful romantic lead, since both Joan Sims (as the saloon owner Belle) and Angela Douglas (as sharp-shooting Annie Oakley) fall for him. Everyone else is really there as wallpaper in this one, and even Kenneth Williams (as the mayor), Bernard Bresslaw (in his first Carry On role as the Chief’s son Little Heap) and Charles Hawtrey (as Chief Big Heap) are never stretched very far.

It’s worth seeing, and might be better appreciated were it not part of a long series of successful comedies. They have done better than this, but you’ll easily find movies that are far less funny and far less watchable.

Carry On Constable

Year: 1959
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Leslie Philips, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Eric Barker, Shirley Eaton

Carry On Constable has distinct shades of the first film in the series, Carry On Sergeant, in that a bunch of hapless, hopeless new recruits need to be pulled into shape by a world-weary, put-upon Sergeant. In this case (as the title suggests) it’s the police force rather than the army that provides the setting from which the old jokes get launched.

However, Constable really marks a turning point in the (at the time) fledgeling series. This fourth outing marks the first time where the stereotypical characters are so obviously present – Charles Hawtrey reprises his Private Golightly role as the effeminate, harmless SPC Gorse, Kenneth Williams’ Constable Benson is the slightly camp, very superior intellectual that he played in all three of the previous outings, Leslie Phillips is the womanising loafer that blessed Carry On Nurse so well, and Hattie Jacques manages to show a little humanity in the soul of the ‘matronly’ role of Sergeant Moon.

The other key element in Constable, of course, is that it marked the first appearance of Sid James. As Sergeant Wilkins, it’s his job to be frustrated by the ineptitude of his recruits, and confounded by the attentions of his superior (once again played by the great Eric Barker).

It’s pretty standard early Carry On fare – you know there’s going to be some catastrophies, you know there’s going to be a successful ending, and you know more than anything that there’s going to be some sort of drag act somewhere in the plot. But that’s fine, because that’s really what Carry On is generally all about – the comfort of knowing that you’re visiting a well-loved family member, and your visit will entertain and satisfy. Carry On’s are the comfort-food of the British film-viewing public: they know what’s on offer, and they know they will enjoy it. Constable is no different – it does exactly what it says on the DVD box……

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Year: 1987
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, Laila Robins, Dylan Baker, Carol Bruce, Olivia Burnette

 

Within the movie industry, people generally had only a single thought about John Candy – a fat, funny guy. And let’s face it, he was never going to get the lead role in Die Hard or Enter The Dragon. But as the viewing public knew, he shouldn’t have been so easily written off, either.

Planes Trains and Automobiles is initially about one man, Neal Page (Steve Martin) who has cut it just a little fine to catch his flight back home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. In his haste, he loses cab after cab on the streets of New York, and finally gets to the airport in time to see the flight being delayed – but that is just the start of the nightmare. He gets bumped down to coach, and sits next to Del Griffith (John Candy), the most talkative shower-curtain-ring salesman it’s possible to find. Loud, rude, and painfully blunt, Neal thinks that things can’t get worse – but they do. Oh, do they get worse.

First, the plane is diverted to Witchita due to snow in Chicago. Then he can’t get a room and has to share room, bathroom and bed with Del. Then the train they catch (after a sub-zero ride in the back of a pick-up with a snarling dog for company) breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Then the bus only gets them to St Louis. Then the car rental people gives him keys to a car that has been stolen. Then he accepts a ride from Del, only to have a wrecked and burned out vehicle finally impounded by the police. Finally, it looks like the truck driver will get them back to Chicago. But what will happen when they get there?

Steve Martin’s role here is very reminiscent of his role in later movies, such as LA Story – much more restrained and on the whole better for it. It’s down to John Candy to display the manic humour and emotional vulnerability that is normally Martin’s forte. And he displays a depth of ability that belies his industry reputation. He died far too early. This is a great performance from a superb actor. Look out also for the lady behind the Car Rental desk – it’s the school secretary from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, using language that certainly would have landed her in detention, in reaction to the one moment that Martin really lets rip.

This is one of my favorite movies. You also don’t know what could possibly go wrong next. And although much of the credit goes to the two stars, hats off also to John Hughes, for writing, producing, and directing a comedic masterpiece.