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,but wants 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.
I have been on a bit of downer since returning from London, so I thought I’d flip through my collection of DVD’s to see if there was something in there to help lift me out of my malaise, plenty of choice of course, but I was clearly in need of something light-hearted to raise my spirits. Nothing cheers the frozen northerner up more than a good movie and non-more so than the 1965 comedy “How to murder your Wife” featuring Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, Terry Thomas, Claire Trevor and Eddie Mayehoff. I have watched this film more often than I care to remember and it always bring a smile to my face. The casting by Kerwin Coughlin is for me one of the main reasons why the picture works so well, with each character, no matter how small their part dovetailing together to produce outstanding performances. Written by George Axelrod the story revolves around the highly successful strip cartoonist Stanley Ford and his alter ego Bash Brannigan (played with consummate ease by Jack Lemmon) Ford a confirmed bachelor has an idyllic lifestyle, living the American Dream in his fabulous Manhattans townhouse where is his every whim is dealt with by his dedicated manservant Charles Firbank (the brilliantly cast Terry Thomas). Firbank dedicates his life to his master with only rule, he only works for unattached single men, whilst attending a friend’s bachelor party Ford unwittingly over indulges himself with alcohol and finds himself marrying the beautiful Italian model who has just stepped of a cake wearing only a bikini and a smile.
Ford wakes up the following morning to find beads of sweat forming on his forehead as he gazes upon the new Mrs Ford ( the gorgeous Virna Lisi) lying naked on his bed. Distraught at his mistake, he tries to reason with Firbank to stay until he can a gain a divorce, which is going to be handled by his hapless lawyer Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff). At the time this movie was made and certainly in today’s climate the film was regarded as being politically incorrect and there’s the rub, it is, but it is also one of best comedy movies you will ever watch. Witness how the new Mrs Ford is unknowingly manipulated by Lampson’s overbearing wife (Claire Trevor at controlling and calculating best) to destroy all of Stanley male interests leaving him with no alternative but to kill her, but only through his comic strip which he has now transformed into the family orientated The Brannigans as opposed to Bash Brannigan secret agent. The plan works a treat until the naïve Mrs Ford wakes up after a party to find the next series of Stanley’s comic strip revealing her demise. Her disappearance without trace, leads to Stanley being charged with her murder with everyone guessing that the beautiful Mrs Ford has ended up in the gloppita, gloppita machine next door. Let down badly in court by the incompetent Lampson, Ford decides to take upon himself to offer his own defence, the ensuing courtroom scene is utterly brilliant, but only if you’re a man, the fairer sex are not, I have to say, portrayed in a very good light with male chauvinism running rampant throughout the courtroom. It would spoilt the film if I gave away the ending so, just spend the five or six quid that it will cost you to buy the DVD on Amazon and sit back and enjoy Jack Lemmon and the rest of this glorious cast give peerless performances in one of the best comedies that was made during the 1960’s. Thanks Bash
A couple of Saturdays ago, I returning home from a very pleasant family gathering at my youngest son’s home, I switched the television on more out of habit than anything else and there before my eyes was Detective Sergeant Jack Vincennes of the Los Angeles Police Department. Vincennes had just stepped out his car, a beautiful two-tone 1953 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, in a vain attempt to save the life of struggling actor Matt Reynolds, unfortunately he is too late, Vincennes finds Reynolds dead, lying on the floor with his throat slashed. This is a scene from, if you haven’t already guessed it, the 1997 film L A Confidential, which is in my eyes is probably the best ever movie about police corruption although, it has to be said Sidney Lumet’s splendid Q&A is not far behind it. Curtis Hanson’s classic film is based on the James Ellroy bestseller and is set in the 1950,s in the burgeoning city that Los Angeles was becoming at that time. Featuring a stellar cast which including Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny De Vito, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, David Strathairn and a highly seductive Kim Basinger, the picture brilliantly uncovers the darker side of life on the west coast as opposed to the glitz and glamour that was Hollywood in 1950’s. Set to a superb musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, the film revolves around LAPD Police officers Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) Bud White ( Russell Crowe) and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) whose lives become intertwined when trying to solve various murder cases, that involve a high class prostitution ring and drug distribution. Cooler than a popsicle, L A Confidential has everything, great 50’s L A locations, bars such as the Bob’s Frolic Room and the Formosa Cafe, or great buildings like the Hollywood Center Motel on Sunset Boulevard and Richard Neutra’s 1929 Lovell House. The clothes capture the time and period effortlessly, especially if you’re the hip Jack Vincennes the most stylish cop on the force, checkout Hollywood Jack’s wardrobe at https://bamfstyle.com acting wise Pearce and Crowe do a good job against Spacey but when it comes down to their attire Spacey blows the pair off the screen with his suave style. If this is not enough to entice you to watch it, or in my case watch it again, then allow high class prostitute, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) to lure you into her boudoir, because once you are in never coming out. I don’t want to spoil the film for if you not seen all I will say is that once it starts don’t take your eyes off the screen because you will miss something in this very clever and intricate plot and this is not mistake that you can afford to make. L A Confidential was overlooked and did not win the Oscar for best picture in 1997 which is fairly unbelievable considering it went to Titanic, but don’t let this put you off, because if you are like me this is a movie that you will never tire of because it is a true classic. Just the facts Jack, just the facts.
Film 4 has currently been showing the great Orson Welles movie The Lady From Shanghai, now most people will always tell you that Orson Wells most celebrated movie is Citizen Kane, which was critically acclaimed by nearly everyone in the film industry and is frequently regarded as the greatest movie of all time. However, the frozen northerner who has watched Kane on numerous occasions and finds the picture hugely enjoyable, would argue that for him, it only comes third in the Welles pecking order behind the aforementioned Lady from Shanghai and the superb Touch of Evil. Gloriously shot in black and white, I am unsure why I like the Lady from Shanghai so much, but I suspect the main the reason may be Rita Hayworth, Welles estranged wife at the time the movie was being shot, who plays the femme fatale, Elsa Bannister. Hayworth at the time was Columbia pictures leading lady and was famous not only for her good looks, but also for her flaming red hair and was christened the “love goddess” by the studio. Welles forced Hayworth to cut her hair short and dye her hair blond for her role as “Elsa” which did not go down with her many fans and may have attributed this to the film initial flop at the box office. Nevertheless Hayworth delivers a wonderful performance along Welles, Everett Sloane, as her disabled husband Arthur Bannister, and Glenn Anders as Bannister’s law partner George Grisby. The film’s sometimes complex murder plot revolves around the Bannisters yacht trip from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal and focuses on the relationship between the Welles character able seaman, Michael O’ Hara and the temptress Elsa Bannister. O’ Hara is unwittingly being framed for a murder he did not commit, but with Hayworth around who can blame him for being distracted. Taking in some exotic locations along the way the story finally unravels in San Francisco, climaxing in a Chinatown theatre featuring the legendary hall of mirrors where finally the Bannisters get the their comeuppance. Welles was a great director who was greatly underappreciated, mainly by people in his own country, here was a man who was often shunned by the major studios primarily because they saw him as too much of a maverick. He should have made a lot more movies than he did and it is tragedy that his projects were often overlooked. Welles must have known that when he was shooting the Lady from Shanghai that all the attention would be on Hayworth and to his credit he was big enough to let all of the spotlight be on her, but then again Welles like all of us was only human and who wouldn’t want be seduced by the flaxen haired bombshell Hayworth, certainly not me.