Spy Games: Dirk Bogarde – The Reluctant International Man of Mystery

British actor Dirk Bogarde never played James Bond but he did appear in a handful of interesting spy films made during the ‘60s and ‘70s. He may not have resembled the tough, no-nonsense brute that many associate with 007 but Bogarde’s devilish charm, quick wit, understated elegance and roguish good looks made him a good candidate for playing the British secret service agent or his evil nemesis. For my latest installment of Spy Games I thought I’d take a look at the various spy spoofs and espionage thrillers that Bogarde appeared in and discuss their questionable merits. While some might find Bogarde’s contributions to the spy genre unimpressive, I think the following films are indispensable fun and fascinating footnotes in the actor’s long and impressive career although Bogarde himself would probably disagree with me.

Most of the spy films Bogarde appeared in weren’t particularly successful at the box office and critics rarely gave them the time of day. In numerous letters and books that the actor published he openly admits that he often took these roles to pay the bills. There was little motivation to make these movies besides a paycheck but today they’re testaments to Bogarde’s incredible professionalism, renowned talent and passion for his craft, which is apparent in every one of these movies. No matter how flimsy the script was or how disengaged his fellow cast members became, Bogarde proves himself to be a consummate professional. He’s an actor’s actor if there ever was one.

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When I Was Younger, So Much Younger Than Today

A long time ago in lifetime far, far away, I went to see a movie with a couple of friends from school.   Revealing it will most decidedly date me, even if I stress it was a re-release (which it was), and so I do so with some trepidation.  The movie was Smoky with Fess Parker, Diane Hyland, Hoyt Axton and the perfectly wonderful Katy Jurado.  It was okay.  See, at a very young age, I became slightly elitist about what movies I liked and had no reservations about deeming a movie either good or bad.  It was clear from around five or six that I was already latching onto film as a source of obsession that would continue throughout my life and even as a wee lad I found it useful to critique the movies I saw, even if, at age eight, I had no idea at all what I was saying.  My friends liked it and wondered why I didn’t.  I can’t remember what I told them but I can tell you now, it was probably a bunch of malarkey.  Kids critiquing art.  Is there anything more ludicrous?  Looking back throughout my formative years, I give thanks that there was no internet and no blog to record my asinine views on film.  When I read young bloggers today I often shake my head and think, “Oh boy are you going embarrassed by this in twenty years.”

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Edwardian Comedy

John Ritter’s spastic freak-out in a parking garage in Skin Deep is an archetypal Blake Edwards image. What characters repress or ignore will always be expressed through their bodies, with or without their consent.  The Warner Archive recently re-issued three Edwards comedies on DVD: S.O.B. (1981), Victor/Victoria (1982) and Skin Deep (1989). While new transfers of these visually elegant works would have been welcome, they gave me an excuse to watch them for the first time, so I’ll keep my complaining to a minimum. All three films involve varying levels of performance, and bodies that either accept or reject the facades imposed upon them. The most furious rejection occurs in S.O.B., a flesh-eating virus coated letter to Hollywood.

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Searching for Old Hollywood, Part 2

The Hollywood Museum is located on Highland Avenue near Hollywood Boulevard. The innocuously named museum was formerly the Hollywood History Museum, which likely sounded too dry or dull for tourists. Before that it was the Max Factor Museum, because the building is the original Max Factor headquarters where many a Golden Age star developed her signature look, from hair color to makeup design. My friend and I decided to check out the Hollywood Museum while attending the TCM Classic Film Festival in April. Visiting the museum became part of my quest to find some remnant of the glamor and mystique of the Golden Age among the noise and clamor of today’s Hollywood.

The rose-colored lobby and first floor of the 1935 Max Factor Building have retained its original Art Deco look. The primary make-up rooms have been preserved and restored with the original chairs, settees, lights, and multi-angled mirrors. It was enlightening to stroll through the rooms where Billie Burke, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and dozens of others were given the star treatment. The rooms suggested the kind of lavish attention the stars must have received: Each of the four primary rooms was devoted to women of a specific hair color: Blondes, Redheads, Brunettes, and Brownettes. The color of each room was selected to flatter the hair color. The rooms reminded me that the stars’ personal looks were extensions of their images, and it was their images that the studios were selling. The stars’ images were not only used to lure people into theaters to see their films but also to promote products in magazines. Ads featuring virtually every major star of the Golden Age lined the walls of the hallways.

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The Man With the Codfish Eyes

Donald Pleasence is DR. CRIPPEN.           [...MORE]

Four Lions, an appreciation

Several times over the last year I have sat down to write something about Four Lions, one of my favorite films of the past couple of years, but each time I abort the mission.  As much as I love the movie and wish to celebrate it, I also know that the chances are few of you will have seen it, much less heard of it—and to date I have a 0% track record of succeeding in convincing even my closest circle of family and friends to watch it.  This is going to be a hard sell—the premise of the thing is just such a turnoff.  Four Lions is a comedy about, and from the perspective of, Islamist terrorists plotting attacks on England.

I know, a laugh riot, right?

poster

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Isn’t it SHOCKing?

If you are hooked up to the Internet you will, through no fault of your own and in inverse proportion to your native apathy or antipathy towards such things, have to sift through a gauntlet of celebrity gossip concerning people who have in their lifetimes achieved nothing beyond the dubious distinction of media focus. Why, just today I learned that a piece of slunk meat who “stars” on an inexplicably popular reality TV show is having a baby. I even know the gender! KILL ME NOW! Happily, balm for that particular Gilead comes every so often via snail mail, as with yesterday’s delivery of the latest issue of Shock Cinema. And not a moment too soon! [...MORE]

65 Years of the Cannes Film Festival: An Early Photographic History Part II.


Last week I shared photos from the first 15 years of the Cannes Film Festival. While the 65th Cannes Film Festival is still unfolding on the French Riviera I thought I’d continue celebrating by sharing some more photos from the decade that made Cannes one of the most important film festivals in the world – the 1960s. Keen observers will notice a distinct change from the last group of photos I shared. The publicity stunts got sillier and the bikini’s got smaller while men let their hair grow longer. The films winning awards also became more challenging, more radical, more overtly political and more experimental. Women were now allowed on the Jury and in 1965 actress Olivia de Havilland became Cannes’ first female President. The times were changing and the festival was changing right along with them.

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But What If It Really Happened?

*As it is necessary to this piece, MAJOR SPOILERS for the titles discussed within.  You’ve been warned.

I have always loved The Cat and The Canary in every version I have seen, even the 1979 version directed by Radley Metzger, former director of semi-stylish porn.  It had a great cast, including Wendy Hiller and Edward Fox and carried the story off quite well.  The story of The Cat and the Canary, for those two or three of you unfamiliar with it, involves an old rich dead man and his relatives all clamoring about his estate for the reading of the will to see who gets all the money left behind.  No sooner is his niece Annabelle West named the inheritor than a guard barges in to warn everyone that a mad man is on the loose.  And not just any mad man but one who thinks he’s a cat and tears his victims apart.  For the next several hours and into the night, everyone is on edge, especially Annabelle.  As the bodies mount the viewer wonders, “Will the cat be caught before Annabelle is killed?”

And then, we discover, it’s all a fake.  There is no mad man, just a nephew who’s second in line and looking to knock Annabelle off without making it look obvious.   And as much as I love all the renditions I’ve seen (sadly, I’ve not yet seen the Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard 1939 version) I always think, “I wish the mad man were real.”

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Hate Binges: The Big Heat and The Lawless

The post-WWII economic expansion exploded in 1950, as the GI Bill’s low mortgage rates stoked a housing boom and pent-up consumer demand propped up retail. Success was there for the taking, but not for all. Two early 50s films that are hitting home video in impressive transfers,  Joseph Losey’s The Lawless (1950, on DVD 5/29 from Olive Films) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953, now out on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time), documented some of the anxieties caused by this enormous upheaval in American life, what would be the start of the greatest stretch of economic growth in U.S. history. More money meant more crime, and The Big Heat is a nightmare rendering of the American Dream, as good cop  Glenn Ford loses his nuclear family and just goes nuclear. The Lawless is an earnest morality play about the plight of migrant fruit pickers in Southern California, doing the work Americans left for office gigs (by 1956 a majority of U.S. workers held white rather than blue collar jobs).

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