Miller’s Crossing is now widely regarded as one of the greatest gangster movies of all time, which makes its initial failure at the box office all the more perplexing. Made by the ever creative Coen Brothers, it is a sublime piece of filmmaking and is everything that you could possibly want from an outstanding gangster movie. Personally I could probably argue this my favourite gangster movie of all time, but, that is perhaps doing a disservice to the likes of The Godfather parts 1 and 2, Once Upon in a America and White Heat, which are peerless pieces of filmmaking with regard to this particular type of genre.
At the heart of the film is a plot that is slightly complex but totally absorbing movie that cannot fail to hold your attention. Basically the story revolves around a power struggle between two rival gangs, one Irish, led by Leo O’Bannon (brilliantly played the very great Albert Finney) the other led by Italian mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), caught up in the middle is Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne) right hand to O’Bannon, but now involved in a very dangerous situation which will see him play off one gang against the other.
Regan feels as if he has no option to switch sides after the Irish godfather O’Bannon offers to protect bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) from the clutches of the murderous Caspar. Working for Caspar places Regan in very precarious situation, his every move being monitored by Caspar’s brutal first lieutenant Eddie “the Dane” Dane, who dislike of Regan is evident from their first meeting. Caspar’s first job for Regan is to find and kill the elusive Bernbaum, a task that Regan is unable to accomplish. From then on in the film ebbs and flows like a roller-coaster ride where no one can be quite sure of what the outcome will be.
It would wrong of me to reveal the ending as some of my followers may not have not yet seen this wonderful movie. The Coen brothers and all the cast have been much vaunted for their performances and rightly so, although I personally think that Albert Finney acts the pants off all of them. But have said that the late great Jon Polito giving the performance of his life as the ruthless Johnny Caspar is left to deliver one of the greatest lines in cinematic history” always put one in the brain”.
The awards season is now upon us and whether you like it or not, at some point you are going to come across the stars of the silver screen, strutting their stuff along that sacred red carpet. Despite the fact that these people are mere mortals, they will be fawned upon by an army of sycophantic reporters who will enthusiastically tell the men how wonderful they look in their Armani Tux’s whilst joyfully expressing in their humble opinion, the ladies have made a peerless choice in selecting their Dolce and Gabbana, Dior or Stella McCartney outfit making them look more radiant than any other star could possibly look. They will then proceed to ask these so called stars a series of questions that clearly identifies these people of having the basic intelligence of five year old.
The theme of this year’s events is black, in defiance of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, whilst no one can condone the actions of the evil Weinstein; I think it is going to take a lot more than someone wearing a little black dress to get on the man on the street to understand or be bothered about the shenanigans that go on in Hollywood. The black dress may make a statement but for how long? These “stars” will eventually return to their gilded cage and life will go back to the way it was and will be, because this game is all about the money and nothing else.
I really don’t know what I make of these “stars” anymore; while not actually watching the show, I caught a taste of this self-indulgence at the BAFA’S event recently held at the Royal Albert Hall. This gut wrenching, stomach churning occasion left me totally bewildered, these people are so far removed from reality it is unbelievable, catching Gary Oldman’s acceptance speech for best actor, I got the impression that Gary Oldman genuinely believed he is Winston Churchill.
Like most people I enjoy a good movie, but these types of events really should have no place in modern society, there are a lot important issues out there than a bunch of overpaid luvvies air kissing each other and generally brownnosing anybody that can get them on the next rung of the ladder. The little black dress may have made a statement but the power brokers in Hollywood and the stars that serve them really couldn’t care less all they care about is who is going to make them their next buck.
When it comes to blogging about Christmas films, followers of my blog would tend to get the distinct impression that Christmas in The Frozen Northerner’s household may be a dark and sombre place given that the last two Christmas films I have blogged about have left me with nightmares that I have to this day. But it not all doom and gloom most of my childhood memories of films at Christmas are great, they would feature all of the Hollywood greats such as Flynn, Colman, Gable and Bogart, even better the BBC would often run a season of films with all of the aforementioned or maybe someone like Cary Grant or Fred Astaire these legends of the screen were from the golden age of Hollywood and I have to admit I watched them all religiously. My parents were great movie fans, especially the Hollywood musicals, so no Christmas was going to complete without me and my family sitting though host of classic song and dance movies featuring the likes of Crosby, Sinatra, Astaire and Kelly. If you want something really festive then forget White Christmas with Bing and Danny and start thinking about Holiday Inn with Bing and Fred, sure the film is saccharin sweet and the plot is as cheesy as a pot of fondue but that doesn’t matter a jot. The storyline is simple, Crosby as Jim Hardy and Astaire as Ted Hanover head a song and dance team featuring a girl performer Lila Dixon played by Virginia Dale, Hardy (Crosby) wants to retire to the country and take Lila (Dale) with him. However, Lila (Dale) decides to stay on the New York nightclub scene with Hanover (Astaire), Hardy (Crosby) hurt by Lila’s rebuff dutifully leaves for a farm in the country to lick his wounds, turning the farm into a holiday retreat, Hardy (Crosby) performs shows at various holiday around the year, while preparing up for his New Year’s show, Hardy meets and falls for Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Ex-partner Hanover (Astaire) now dumped by the lovely Lila (Dale), needs a new partner and heads to Holiday Inn to seek advice off Hardy (Crosby), now that he has lost his dance partner. Arriving at Holiday inn the very drunk Hanover (Astaire) ends up dancing with Mason (Reynolds) who he now sees as ideal new dance partner. It should be fairly simple to work out the plot form hereon in and that is to say everything ends well. No sex or violence just Crosby crooning and Astaire dancing, ably supported by the very underrated Reynolds, this is a slice of honest to goodness Americana, the way Hollywood liked to think people lived, with songs by the great Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn is one of the great Christmas movies, it may be lost on the youth of today but to me it is a timeless classic. Happy Holidays!
It’s 1937 and Los Angeles is in the middle of a heat wave, private detective JJ Gittes (Jack Nicolson in his greatest ever role) in a rather dapper cream suit, lounges back in his armchair and utters “What can say Curly” when trying to console a distraught husband who has just found out that his wife is committing adultery, now, you may think you know what’s going on, with this being another story about an L.A. gumshoe but you would way off the mark. What you are actually going to view is a masterpiece of filmmaking, produced by Robert Evans and directed by Roman Polanski this film will leave you enthralled as it leads you down a path of greed political corruption, murder and just a little bit of that most taboo subjects, incest. Chinatown has been reviewed incessantly by more noteworthy scribes than me, but after watching it for the umpteenth time the other week on channel 4 I can’t get Mr Gittes out of my mind. Nicolson is sublime as the streetwise P.D. that is drawn into a web of immorality that even he finds hard to take. As the story by Robert Towne slowly unravels Gittes eases away from his normal divorce cases to something a lot more juicy, corruption by city officials in a water scam of epic proportions, which leads to the death of Hollis I Mulwray ( Darrell Zwerling) head of Los Angeles Power and Water. Now embroiled a murder investigation Gittes is drawn deeper and deeper into the mire which will see him become romantically involved with the deceased’s highly vulnerable wife Kathryn (beautifully played with understated ease by Faye Dunaway). After nearly losing his nose in his quest for the truth, Jake fervently purses the Mulwray case, in a search that will ultimately lead him to Kathryn’s father the dominant, all-powerful, incestuous, Noah Cross (John Huston). The way the plot gradually unravels is a work of genius and is arguably Polanski’s greatest contribution to the cinema, but don’t underestimate the performances of the cast, every actor plays their roles to perfection, and although Nicolson and Dunaway give peerless performances, John Huston somewhat steals the picture as a man who always gets what he wants. Played out to a haunting soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, from the fedora on the top of Jake’s head all the way to the Florshiem’s on his feet, Chinatown is a piece of art that should enjoyed time and time again please watch it and hopefully you enjoy it as much as me.
Everyone will have a favourite Sherlock Holmes film or TV series, they come in all shapes and sizes with Holmes be played by a host of revered actors ranging from the inimitable Basil Rathbone to the very stylish Rupert Everett, the Victorian/Edwardian era with its swirling clouds of fog may not be cup of tea, you may prefer the modern versions such as the ones featuring the excellent Benedict Cumbernauld. Your choice like mine is a very personal thing and only you know why you like that particular Holmes film. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes made in 1970, was written, produced and directed by the very great Billy Wilder, with a superb score by Miklos Rozsa, that perfectly captures the Victoria era, Wilder was given bumpy ride by the distributer the Mirisch Production Company, who edited the film mercilessly, nevertheless is the frozen northerner‘s favourite Sherlock Holmes film. Why I fell in love with this particular adaptation I have no idea, maybe its stems from one of the opening lines when Watson describes how Holmes has solved the perplexing murder of Admiral Abernathy by measuring how far the parsley had sank into the butter on a hot day, from then on I knew this was not going to be a typical Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Stephens superb portrayal of the great man is akin to what I like to think Holmes would really have been like, Watson’s (Colin Blakeley’s best ever role) serialization of Holmes triumphs and conquests in The Strand magazine would have us believe that here indeed is the greatest mind in all England. However, as the film unravels Wilder reveals a darker side to our hero suggesting that if he is not indeed homosexual then he is most certainly bi-sexual, although it has said that no man or woman is ever going to come close to his real love, a seven per cent solution of cocaine. Wilder conveys the story in two parts, the first part involving the prima ballerina in the Imperial Russian ballet, the second part, an attack on the British Empire by German intelligence. These two plots slowly reveal flaws in the Holmes’s makeup, demonstrating that our hero is not quite the genius that Watson would seemingly have us believe. The supporting cast is ably led by Christopher Lee as his brother Mycroft and Geneveive Page as the mysterious Gabrielle Valladon, Irene Handl playing the part of the irascible Mrs Hudson, a performance of which is nothing short of brilliant. Part one would us believe that Holmes is averse to women, and the way that he disengages himself from the advances of Madame Petrova, hints a little bit about his sexual persuasion however, as the story unfolds Holmes is completely captivated by the seemingly widowed Gabrielle Valladon who is actually the top German spy Fraulein Elsa Von Hofmannsthal, a scenario that sees Holmes, utterly besotted by Teutonic temptress. Attempting to get the bottom of Monsieur Valladon’s death, they end up masquerading around the castles of Scotland as Mr and Mrs Ashdown with Watson as their dutiful valet, a plan that badly backfires on Holmes when he unwittingly leads them to the latest pride and joy of the Diogenes club, an underwater submersible, (a submarine to you and me) cleverly disguised as the Loch Ness monster. The plot continually twists and turns with Holmes completely unaware of the intentions of the Kaiser’s mole. Fortunately for Holmes his brother Mycroft has uncovered the real identity of Madame Valladon and the plot to steal the submersible, now that the integrity of the British Empire has been saved, Mycroft insists that Holmes must inform Fraulein Von Hofmannsthal that the game is up, the Fraulein bares her soul to Holmes stating that she knew all along that she could never outwit the brilliant Holmes, who plays along never revealing the fact that he has been completely outsmarted by the Prussian seductress. The scene at the end where Elsa Von Hofmannsthal bids Holmes Auf Wiedersehen using their umbrella to transmit a Morse code message is a stroke of genius. The film itself is often overlooked by Holmes fans maybe because there is a bit too much humour and perhaps because no one thought that Stephens and Blakely could pull it off so it well, but under the guidance of Wilder they have produced an often forgotten gem.
I recently came across the classic British comedy film “I’m All Right Jack” featuring amongst others Peter Sellers, produced by the hugely talented Boulting brothers, the movie has some very interesting characters, none is more fascinating than a somewhat despicable fellow called Bertram Tracepurcel (beautifully played by Dennis Price) he could be best described as a being a bit of a bounder. But having said that he is a bounder that is milking the system, not at all like the type of bounder we are going to talk about. So what is a bounder or for that matter a cad, looking for a little bit of clarification on the subject, the Cambridge English dictionary describes such a person “ as a man who behaves badly or dishonestly especially towards women”.Uncle Bertie was clearly dishonest, but not to women only to the companies he could swindle, real cads and bounders fictitious or real, are chaps that attract rich women in their droves and once they have fleeced these poor females, they tend to abscond to pastures new to find a new unsuspecting target with sole intention of bleeding them dry. What makes these unscrupulous fellows attractive to the opposite sex? well they are or have been good looking, (although this is not always the case look on further than ex Tory ministers Alan Clark and Cecil Parkinson) someone along the lines of former cavalry officer James Hewitt who in his heyday cut quite a dashing figure, treating Princess Diana very badly, therefore he has to be up there with the best cads around. It may also be someone from a sporting back ground like Gottfried Von Cramm who allegedly after marrying Barbara Hutton spent their wedding night in the arms of his male love, not nice. Bond creator Ian Fleming would also fall into the cad and bounder category and was noted for not treating the fairer sex very well, which may have heavily influenced the way his hero James Bond treats his woman, however I prepared to overlook Bond’s treatment of woman as he doing it for Queen and country rather than just for his own selfish gains. Following the bond route the silver screen is full of cads and bounders, my research has shown that they have a tendency to have attended a good public school or university haven fallen on hard times, they are unable to bear the thought of working for a living, so they tend to seize upon the opportunity of living off rich women. Despite the fact they are broke, they dress immaculately, normally drive a sports car and appear to have a flat in a rather elegant area somewhere like Mayfair in England, all of which normally true apart from the fact that none of these items are being paid for. These cads are perhaps someone a bit like another Dennis Price character Louis Mazzini, who toys with affections of two ladies while he is in the process slaughtering an entire aristocratic family, making him somewhat of a serial cad (see Kind Hearts and Coronets). On the other hand you could be like Tony Wendice who is suave and immaculately groomed,butwants nothing more than to see his wife murdered, so he can live off her wealth of which he will be the sole recipient upon her demise, the cad hasn’t even the decency to kill her himself having the cheek to hire someone kill her rather than do himself (see Dial M for Murder). I have circled the piranha fish bowl in which these fellows swim in attempt to find the best one I can up with and surprisingly my favourite cad and bounder is an American fictitious chap called Monte Baragon from the novel and movie Mildred Peirce. Monte Baragon (you would have though from his name alone Mildred would stay well clear) charms and marries Mildred spends her hard earned money with gay abandon, regardless of the fact that he despises Mildred, her business and her background. When Monte quickly grows weary of Mildred who has spent a fortune refurbishing his mansion and beach house, the philandering Baragon turns his attention to his stepdaughter Veda (Mildred’s daughter) who is easily seduced by his charm. Baragon has both mom and daughter on a string and is having his cake and eating it yet he is still not happy, what do guys like this want, the fact that Baragon ends dead is probably the only way he finds happiness. Cads and Bounders are rare breed of men, they will always be around and more often than not they will continue to flourish, so if you are a well-heeled single lady of independent means sitting in a swish cocktail bar sipping a very dry martini, just remember the good looking chap casting his eye in your direction may try to seduce you but he just may be planning to murder you!!.
The festive season is now well and truly upon us and as normal the usual Christmas films will rolled out for our entertainment. Everyone has a personal favourite, for example the Contessa di la Proctero will spend one afternoon watching Elf starring Will Ferrell which is her preferred choice. Although the frozen northerner will do everything in his power to avoid the scariest movie of all time, Pinocchio (see Blog Notes 22) this is not the only problem faced by him, he also has to face the fact that there will be another movie on over the holiday period that will seriously unnerve him, it will be screened relentlessly, mainly on Film 4 this particular picture will catapult him into a dark abyss plummeting him towards the depths of despair of which there will be no return, viewed alone in a darkened room with the blinds drawn this movie will see the frozen northerner transported to the little town of Bedford Falls for the afternoon, leaving him tortured and grief-stricken at the plight of George Bailey. I have never been able enjoy Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed and I don’t understand why, what should be a hugely enjoyable movie will more than likely have me tottering on the of brink of suicide. Why do I put myself through this hell I have no idea, but watching George Bailey standing on that bridge in the snow is the biggest reality check anyone is ever going to give me. Capra made his name making great films about the little man battling against corrupt politicians and giant corporations, Capra has done it much than “It’s a Wonderful Life” with films such as “Mr Deeds Goes to Town” “Meet John Doe” and “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” but nothing can get under my skin like “It’s a Wonderful Life” you would think that the evil Mr Potter (brilliantly play by Lionel Barrymore) would be the person that infuriates me but no its George Bailey ( James Stewart). Life for George hasn’t turned as he had hoped it would, nothing wrong with that, lots of us could say that and the first half of film is a very pleasant story of small town America where there is nothing really to get excited about but, once his guardian angel Clarence Odbody (played by Henry Travers) enters the picture the film takes on a much darker side plunging me straight into a hellhole that I cannot climb out of, until a long time after the film has finished. Life without George shows just how much one man’s life can have an effect on his community and puts me in touch with just how precious life is this will make me very sad and despite the fact the film has a happy ending, it will not matter a jot as I will have been severely troubled by this time, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a wonderful film and should enjoyed by everyone and especially at Christmas but for the frozen northerner it is a journey into hell.