From Hot Wax to the Silver Screen: Quadrophenia (1979)

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To view Quadrophenia click here.

Since film got sound, filmmakers have been making musicals. And much of the time the inspiration was the music itself. That is to say, while many musicals are composed originally, like Oklahoma (1955), others, like An American in Paris (1951), are adapted from music already in existence, music that inspired the filmmakers to, essentially, turn songs into plots. After the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, and its late 1960s/early 1970s predilection for concept albums, rock operas and good old fashioned wretched excess, there was new fertile ground from which filmmakers could excavate a storyline. Some were strict adaptations, some were songs as story and some were loose inspirations. In the 1970s, several movies were made with rock songs as their basis with decidedly mixed results, until finally, they seemed to have given up on the singing part altogether.

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Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

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To view The Man Who Knew Too Much click here.

Years ago I read about Cecil B. DeMille’s adventures with The Squaw Man. If you’re unfamiliar with that title, it’s the first movie DeMille ever directed, a silent Western shot in 1914. It was also the 33rd movie he directed, depending on which uncredited assists you count, in 1918. And it was the first sound Western he ever made, in 1931. At a certain point, people close to him must have asked, “Geez, what is it with you and The Squaw Man?!” Surely, if he’d lived into the 1960′s, he would have figured out a way to give it one more go, maybe with Eli Wallach this time. Whether he was trying to perfect it, make lightning strike three times or just loved the story that much, DeMille clearly felt the first time wasn’t as good as it could have been. Not being able to endlessly ruin the original with CGI updates, he simply made it again. Three years after DeMille’s last attempt, Alfred Hitchcock, in 1934, made his first attempt at The Man Who Knew Too Much, with Leslies Banks, Edna Best and Peter Lorre in his first English-speaking role. Twenty-one years later, he gave it another go, this time with Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day and Bernard Miles, who was given the impossible task of filling Peter Lorre’s shoes. The differences between the two are minimal but the reputation of the two are quite different.

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Crime & Passion: Pool of London (1951)

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To view Pool of London click here.

I, along with some of my fellow StreamLine colleagues, have been modestly building a case for the reassessment of Basil Dearden’s career during the past year by spotlighting many of his films including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), All Night Long (1963), Frieda (1947), The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) and The Captive Heart (1946). Despite the fact that the British director has been the subject of a Criterion DVD box set, Dearden is still relatively unknown in America outside of academic circles where he is typically regarded as a message filmmaker or competent craftsman. I think his body of work merits more consideration so I decided to dive into another Dearden film recently and came away even more impressed by his ability to combine challenging social commentary with dynamic filmmaking.

In Pool of London (1951), Dearden explores the shadowy environs of the London docklands where sailors from around the world mix, mingle and struggle to make a decent living. We get to know two of these sailors intimately; an American merchant seaman named Dan (Bonar Colleano) and his Jamaican pal Johnny (Earl Cameron). This noir-infused drama unfolds during a shore leave excursion where the mischievous Dan gets entangled with some unsavory smugglers and sensitive Johnny becomes smitten with a sweet-natured blond (Susan Shaw). Dan’s dilemma becomes increasingly difficult as the film spirals towards its nail-biting conclusion but Johnny’s interracial romance comes with its own set of problems.

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Free at Last: The Captive Heart (1946)

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To view The Captive Heart click here.

In the past, several of us here have been tipping our hats to the rich variety of films here at FilmStruck representing the underrated British filmmaker Basil Dearden, from his earliest days at Ealing Studios to his very last feature film (The Man Who Haunted Himself [1970]). Now it’s time to take a look at one of his most enduringly popular Ealing titles, a heart-tugging World War II film that’s held in tremendous esteem in its native country: The Captive Heart (1946).

One of the most high-profile films this summer was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, so it’s been interesting to go back and see films that tie in to those real-life events from different angles than what we saw in that IMAX spectacle. In this case we have a fictional story set after the Dunkirk evacuation, with (future Sir) Michael Redgrave cast in one of his strongest roles of the decade as Karel Hasek, a Czech captain who’s been sent to a concentration camp. A chance opportunity allows him to pose as one of the thousands of British officers sent to POW camps in the aftermath of Dunkirk, but to pull off the ruse, he has to keep writing to the wife of the dead British captain he’s now impersonating. (Think of it as a much harsher version of what Don Draper had to go through to assume his identity in Mad Men  [2007-2015].) [...MORE]

One for all, and all for one!

FOUR MUSKETEERS, THE, Frank Finlay, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, 1974.

To view The Three Musketeers click here.

To view The Four Musketeers click here.

Director Richard Lester was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but he made some of the best British films of the 1960s. Inspired by Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, he developed an acute funny bone and an appreciation of the absurd that allowed him to work side-by-side with bastions of British comedy such as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Lester’s sense of humor also appealed to The Beatles who personally selected the expat director to record the band’s exploits in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). This music-fueled double feature introduced the Fab Four to audiences around the world and revealed how quirky, lively and charismatic the band could be on and off the stage. In both films, Lester aptly spotlighted the mop-tops playful camaraderie as they challenged authority, outwitted ostensible villains and used teamwork to right perceived wrongs.

By presenting The Beatles as a group of countercultural champions, the director laid the groundwork for many of his future films which included reinterpreting legends (Robin and Marian [1976], Butch and Sundance: The Early Days [1979]) and superheroes (Superman II [1980], Superman III [1983]). But outside of The Beatles movies, the best example of Lester’s appreciation for comical heroes can be found in The Three Musketeers (1974) and its impromptu sequel, The Four Musketeers (1974) currently streaming on FilmStruck.

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Jubilee (1979)

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To view Jubilee click here.

Jubilee (1979) by Derek Jarman, the experimental filmmaker and activist who also made music videos for bands such as The Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle, The Smiths, Bob Geldof, Pet Shop Boys and Patti Smith, is a punk, dystopian film that transports Queen Elizabeth I forward in time to the Britain of the 1970s where violence and decay are the coin of the realm. The film does carry with it some creature comforts (music by Brian Eno, a young Adam Ant), and plenty of purposeful discomforts (at this point, all I can say is: take your pick). [...MORE]

“We’re Going to Win this Thing, Right?” The Art of Propaganda

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To view The Lion Has Wings click here.

Propaganda can be as benign as simply biasing information to promote one particular point of view, usually at the expense of another. In its more naked form, it can be used to convince one set people that another group will be their destruction if they’re not dealt with swiftly and decisively. And in its most dangerous form, it can be used to convince the masses that an entire population of people don’t deserve to live. Radio and the movies gave propaganda a reach it never had before the 20th century. During the 1930s, both became a strikingly strong means of getting the message across and once World War II got started, radio broadcasters like Lord Haw Haw and Axis Sally did their best to demoralize the enemy: the Allied Powers in general, Britain in particular. At a certain point, you’ve got to hit back and all sides did. During World War I and II, the Allies dehumanized their enemies in posters,  from the “Mad Brute” ape depiction of German soldiers in World War I to the buck-toothed, thick glasses of the Japanese in World War II. The Nazis, of course, took things to an entirely different level with their rampant dehumanization of the Jews leading to eventual systemic genocide. And when the Nazis went into western Poland on September 1, 1939, joined by the Soviet Union in the east a couple of weeks later, Britain found itself in a tense situation. They weren’t nearly as prepared as they could have been but needed to convince the British people they were. Enter Alexander Korda and his three contract directors Michael Powell, Adrian Brunel and Brian Desmond Hurst, to quickly make a propaganda film that could be released to audiences within weeks. The result was The Lion Has Wings, one of the most important, and groundbreaking, propaganda films of the period.

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Die Laughing: Carry On Screaming! (1966)

CARRY ON SCREAMING, Joan Sims, Tom Clegg, 1966

To view Carry On Screaming! click here.

“The usual charge to make against the Carry On films is to say that they could be much better done. This is true enough. They look dreadful, they seem to be edited with a bacon slicer and the comic rhythm jerks along like a cat on a cold morning. But if all these things were more elegant, I don’t really think the films would be more enjoyable: the badness is part of the funniness.”
– Critic Penelope Gilliatt, “In praise of Carrying On” from a 1964 issue of The Observer

FilmStruck has made a batch of the Carry On films available for streaming and if you’re unfamiliar with these British comedies it’s a great opportunity to become acquainted with one of the U.K.’s most popular film franchises. Beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958, director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers teamed up with a rotating cast of regulars to make an impressive 31 films before the series ended in 1992 with Carry On Columbus. During their 34-year run, the Carry On films never won any awards and were typically dismissed by critics but they were beloved by audiences who appreciated how these funny farces satirized respected British institutions such as the military, law enforcement and the medical establishment. The Carry On franchise also regularly lampooned popular films such as the James Bond series with Carry On Spying (1964) and 20th Century-Fox’s big-budget Cleopatra epic in Carry On Cleo (1965).

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Moorland Suspense: A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

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To view A Cottage on Dartmoor click here.

“The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but on the other hand, you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples. As you look at their grey stone huts against the scarred hillsides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door, fitting a flint-tipped arrow on to the string of his bow, you would feel that the presence there was more natural than your own.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

I thought of these lines from The Hound of the Baskervilles (my favorite of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels) while watching A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). Anthony Asquith’s silent film begins with the introduction of a wild looking man (Uno Henning) as he scampers like a scared rabbit across the English moors. He is clad in a frayed prison uniform and a mop of untamed hair rests uneasily on his head. As his feral eyes searched the bleak landscape I began to wonder: Was he hunting something or was he being hunted?

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Went the Day Well? (1942): A Special Kind of War Film

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To view Went the Day Well? click here.

It always warms my heart to see how many Ealing Studios films we have stacked around here at FilmStruck. Rivaled perhaps only by Hammer Film Productions, it’s one of the most-loved brand names in British cinema, especially in its native country, and one I’ve happily brought up in the past. Most people associate Ealing with the classic run of comedies that became major international successes (often starring Alec Guinness), but its legacy runs so much deeper than that. One of the very best Ealing films, Went the Day Well? (1942) is a perfect example of how to make a wartime message film that goes so far beyond propaganda and still works like a charm today. [...MORE]

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