Forgotten Gems


Columbia logoAlthough most films can be classified and placed into genres fairly easily there are a number of films which fit several categories and others of a rare breed  which ar20th Century-Fox logoe in a category of their own.  This page is dedicated to these films and also to a number of films which have fallen out of fashion or were never fashionable in the first place and are quietly gathering dust on the shelves of obscure bric-a-brac shops.  Many of the films on this and other pages are taken from novels and I make it a point to read the book and watch the film or vice-versa.  It's more than interesting to compare the two art forms and see how a director translates a book onto the screen.  There are one or two "foreign" films which I have watched almost by default and I have a feeling that there is a whole culture out there waiting to be explored.



The Treasure of the Sierra Madre { 1948 }
Director : John HustonWalter Huston, Tim Holt and Humphrey Bogart
From the novel by B.Traven

It may be true that Treasure is fondly remembered among the older generation and film buffs but there's no doubt whatsoever that it is virtually lost to younger filmgoers who may be difficult to persuade that a film made all of half a century ago has merit. In fact, apart from being an excellent film with the theme that "The love of money is the root of all evil" and a wonderfully atmospheric evocation of 1925 Tampico, Mexico, it is a fascinating slice of Hollywood history in so many diverse ways. The story itself is straightforward but the manner that it is related is chock full of classic movie vignettes ;

When John Huston takes the part of a well-heeled American in a walk-on part and is accosted three times by a down-on-his-luck Dobbs { Bogart } with the same line
"Hey Mister, stake a fellow American to a meal ?" it is both funny and poignant at the same time.

When Fred.C. Dobbs { Bogart } reveals his true nature right at the beginning of the film disgracefully throwing a glass of water over the street urchin who by chance sells him the winning lottery ticket which is the catalyst to the whole adventure.

Walter Huston's little jig when he finds he is going on another quest for gold.Bruce Bennett

And of course the classic " Badges ! I don't need no steenkin' badges!" by the Mexican bandit {Alphonso Bedoya }.

When Curtin poignantly reads the letter from Codie's wife and his expression says it all in revealing some future happiness in that direction.

An uncredited cameo by Ann Sheridan as a prostitute.  And so many others too many to recount.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre posterThe cast itself is as fascinating as the characters they play ; Humphrey Bogart needs no introduction but Walter Huston who is of course John Huston's dad was actually born in 1884 in Toronto. His film credits are too long to recount here but he is just as famous for his other role as the patriarch of the Huston dynasty. Tim Holt was originally among the plethora of Saturday matinee cowboys, Roy Rogers, Hopalong, Gene Autry and so on but if his performance as Curtin is anything to go by he had talents far in excess of his usual mundane roles. Bruce Bennett as Cody is the most interesting of all of them ---- born in 1906 he won a silver medal for the shot-putt in the 1928 Olympics and was chosen by Edgar Rice Burroughs to play Tarzan in several films in 1935. At that time he was using the name of Herman Brix and starred in a number of serials for Republic Pictures. Just like Tim Holt, Bennett was a far better actor than he was given credit for and directors like Huston must take the credit for bringing out those qualities.
Just to make things even more intriguing, the author of
The Treasure of The Sierra Madre is a complete mystery in himself. He went under so many pseudonyms that nobody ever found out who he was ---- there was a rumour that he met John Huston and was around the film set but nobody could prove it and even today his identity is in doubt.
But the real
Treasure of The Sierra Madre went undiscovered for years until Canadian naturalists diligently tracked it down. The Monarch butterfly is one of the very few of the species to migrate and the vast distances that it covered from Lower Canada to South America caused much speculation as to where it over-wintered. The site is in a remote valley in the Sierra Madre mountains where billions of the butterflies hang in the trees in such great numbers that they have been known to cause some of them to topple down.

A Place in the Sun  { 1951 }
Director ; George Stevens
From the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The arguments still rage about the merits of Dreiser's writing and there are those who see An American Tragedy, written in 1925, as a critique upon Capitalism,  but it deals more with the concomitants of Capitalism, social-status and class-consciousness, rather than the political structure itself.  For some reason, at that particular time and in that particular place { upper New York State } there was a class snobbishness in place which was usually more attributable to the English aristocracy.  The social background is fundamental to both the film and the novel which is based upon a real life murder in 1906 in New York.
 A Place in the Sun posterThe plot centres around the essentially weak and self-pitying persona of George Eastman, played by the 29 year old Montgomery Clift.  George's ambitions are matched only by his ineptitude and having been given a post on the shop floor of his Uncle's manufacturing factory he manifests little flair or aptitude for even that lowly job.  He takes up with Alice, a factory girl with no pretensions or ambitions to be anything else.  Alice is played by Shelley Winters who was stunningly beautiful in her younger days and light years way from "the swimmer" that she so detested being remembered for in
Poseidon.  However, Stevens chose to portray her character as drab and frumpy and not too bright with it which is hardly complimentary to factory girls in general ----- most of the ones I ever knew wore their working gear by day and looked like they had been sprinkled with stardust by night.  Be that as it may. Alice falls for George's good looks and providing a shoulder for him to cry on they enter into a mutually supportive relationship.
Despite his lowly position in the factory, George's benefactor is reluctantly persuaded into bringing him into the penumbra of their social sphere where the vivacious Angela Vickers { 18 years old Liz Taylor } is also taken with his good looks and blarney.  Their liaison which is at first
frivolous gradually grows into a passionate love affair and with marriage in the offing George finally finds himself with the opportunity to possess the wealth and status that he has always aspired to.
On the cusp of achieving The American Dream, George's world is shattered when Alice reveals that she is pregnant and fully expects him to honour his commitment by marrying her.  
In an age when illegitimacy was frowned upon, George could think of only one solution to his problems and it was one which brought the whole house of cards crashing down.
Theodore Dreiser's novels are virtually unknown in the U.K. which is strange as they have all the elements of good social drama -- made in black and white, George Stevens's interpretation of
An American Tragedy makes a great film which is also mysteriously little known.  Stevens went on to make Shane the following year.

Elmer Gantry  { 1960
Director : Richard Brooks
From the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Elmer Gantry poster with Jean Simmons and Burt Lancaster
Circa the 1920's Sinclair Lewis was feted for his perceptive novels about small-town U.S.A. and the morals and mores of their inhabitants. He took the Nobel Prize for Literature for Dodsworth much to the chagrin of Theodore Dreiser but for what it's worth in my opinion Elmer Gantry is his finest work.
When the name Richard Brooks is mentioned it hardly brings to mind visions of a top-class film Director, if indeed it brings to mind anyone at all. But top-class Director is what he was with films such as
Lord Jim, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Professionals 
among others credited to him throughout the 50's and 60's. Largely forgotten now, The Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford as a besieged teacher in an inner city school was arguably his finest work and is as relevant now as it was then.
Brooks' translation of Sinclair Lewis's novel onto the screen is the work of a craftsman and the result is a thoughtful and entertaining film which easily passes the litmus test of being as fresh today as the day it was released.
Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry positively demands our attention with a dynamic virtuoso performance which switches abruptly from hyperactive flamboyance to hell and damnation oratory through flashing smiles and bonhomie and onto a charm and sincerity that would make the angels weep. It's a roller-coaster ride through a range of emotions expressed by an actor at the height of his powers. It's the Crimson Pirate meets Billy Graham and it's brilliant!  But don't just take my word for it ----- Hollywood thought so too and awarded him an Oscar to prove it.
When we first encounter Elmer he is an unsuccessful travelling salesman punctuating his attempts at selling with bouts of drinking and womanising. Quite by chance he comes across a Revivalist meeting where two things catch his attention ----- the first is the realization that there is money to be made and the second is the alluring but virginal Sister Sharon Falconer 
{ Jean Simmons }. The self-styled Sister Sharon carries her piety and humility around with her like a cloak, serving only to pique Elmer's lust even more.
Ingratiating himself with the Revivalists, Elmer finds that he has the power to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and revels in the theatrics of his new role. Fire and Brimstone style speeches interspersed with rousing Christian militaristic hymns culminating in the soothing presence of Sister Sharon make great theatre and the begging bowls are always brimming over.
There is an outstandingly hilarious scene when Elmer first takes to the podium and after a rousing speech the silence is deafening. A man leaps from the audience and races along the aisle taking his coat off as he goes. Elmer immediately squares up the man before he realizes that he is asking for Redemption. He never looks back after that and Elmer has found his true vocation.
Burt Lancaster's presence in
Elmer Gantry is all-encompassing but the rest of the cast complement his performance as if they are aware that this is his finest hour. Jean Simmons is so pure that she makes you sick until it turns out that she is plain Katie from nowheresville and was brought up in abject poverty, explaining her affinity for the money. But nothing is as it seems in Elmer Gantry and Sister Falconer intoxicated with her own success begins to believe in her own divinity.
Arthur Kennedy plays Jim Lefferts a newspaper reporter who follows the proceedings with a wry smile. Underplaying his role with his usual restraint, Kennedy's reporter is a fine foil for the boisterous Gantry and the two of them have some great dialogue and repartee reminiscent of 
Inherit the Wind.  There are some very clever theological arguments which are spoken with machine-gun rapidity and make no concession to the listener but if you can catch them they are well worth listening to with subtleties and nuances unusual for any film. One particular argument which goes to and fro ends with Gantry accusing Lefferts of  being " just like Mencken, Ingersoll, Sinclair Lewis and all the other atheists".
There are some surprising twists and turns at the end of the film and all of the characters turn out to be multi-layered with unexpected strengths and weaknesses.  Shirley Jones as the feckless prostitute, Lulu, turns in a fine performance making her character far more than the stock "tart-with-a-heart" and it is implied but not stated that Gantry is responsible for the situation she finds herself in.
Sinclair Lewis took the subject of Evangelism and highlighted the hypocrisy and cant of the Revivalists, the frenzied, rock-concert atmosphere and the gullibility of the patrons. Written in 1927, his novel was almost prophetic in its accuracy when Jimmy Swaggart et al played out the very same roles in real life 30 years later.
A great movie produced from a great novel, seriously excellent acting, thought-provoking dialogue and a great cast all within a morality tale which still stands --- special effects are superfluous in films this good.

Billy Budd { 1962 }
Director : Peter Ustinov
From the novel by Herman Melville

Billy Budd the stage play is a favourite of audiences everywhere and can usually be found playing somewhere around the country. In contrast, Billy Budd the film has faded so much into obscurity that it is difficult to obtain a copy. It is a given that Billy Budd postercinema audiences are no less knowledgeable than theatre audiences so why this should be so is a mystery particularly in view of the fact that it is a great little movie and completely faithful to its origins.
Written in 1856, Melville's sea story is set in 1797 to a background of the French Revolution, sending shock-waves throughout Europe and the previously unthinkable occurrences of British seamen mutinying in port. These two events are to have a devastating effect on the fate of Melville's hero Billy, The Handsome Seaman, played to perfection by Terence Stamp. The term Handsome Seaman was in common usage at the time and did not carry the connotations that it would have today ---just the opposite in fact, with a Handsome Seaman regarded by his fellow crewmen as an excellent seaman, strong, athletic and brave and altogether a man among men.
When Billy is transferred to a new ship he immediately becomes a favourite among his crew mates and at the same time the object of the ire of the Master-of Arms, Claggart, played by Robert Ryan, who rides him unmercifully. It is a deliberate irony that the name of the ship is The Rights of Man.
Whenever Billy comes under stress he develops a stammer and in the pivotal part of the film, unable to respond to Claggart's unjust accusations he lashes out in frustration and inadvertently kills the officer. Billy's trial and ultimate fate are determined by Captain Vere { Peter Ustinov } with the aforementioned political situation playing a great part in his decision.
On the face of it, Melville's story is quite straightforward but looked at in depth it is more complex and explores the nature of jealousy, hatred, envy and good and evil and not least how punishment is sometimes unjust in order to satisfy the greater good.
A measure of just how much of an impact this film can deliver is that I have never seen Billy Budd for more years than I care to
remember and all of the above is drawn from memory.

Is Paris Burning ? { 1966 }
Director : René Clément
Larry Collins's and Dominique LaPierre's book of the same name is a documentary of the liberation of Paris which reads like a novel.  The two authors collaborations have the knack of bringing history to life and all of their books are extremely exciting page-turners which educate and entertain in a unique style all of their own ; City of Angels was an evocation of poverty in India and Or I'll Dress You in Mourning  told the story of the bullfighting legend Manolito { Tom Jones was due to star in a musical version but the idea fizzled out leaving only the flagship song The Boy From Nowhere } and Is Paris Burning ?   is possibly the best of all their books.
The film version makes a brave attempt to reproduce the excitement and tension of the book but despite a staggering cast of truly biblical proportions the film falls short and in a way it's the very numbers of stars which overwhelm the film.  The Is Paris Burning ? posterstar-spotting is so pervasive that it detracts from the action and even worse is that very few of the stellar cast of actresses and actors have long enough on screen to exhibit their skills ---- Simone Signoret is miscast as a barmaid but you could miss her if you blink, Kirk Douglas's Patton is the same and Glenn Ford as Omar Bradley has just enough time to salute and so it goes on.  Robert Stack. Anthony Perkins, Gert Frobe and so many other favourites are all wasted in a positive celebration of casting gluttony.
Why there were so many a-list stars present is a mystery because in truth the film is not character driven and is never about the quality of acting ---the true star of the film is the city of Paris itself around which most of the action revolves.  The black and white film and the street-fighting scenes blend in well with the archive material giving the film an inescapable documentary quality.  The streets of Paris are completely empty as the action takes place which is incredible in itself given the density of population and tourists at all times and such are the numerous shots of Paris streets that in time this film could be a valuable historic record if nothing else.  
Despite the presence of Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola as screenwriters the film is nowhere near as gripping as he book and underplays the importance of Von Choltiz's role in history.  Nevertheless, despite all its faults the film does bring a major historical event to life and puts flesh on the bones of all those plaques dotted around Paris denoting the place of a fallen freedom fighter.

The Duellists  { 1977 }
Director : Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott proved to be a class act right from the word go, winning the Best Debut Film award at Cannes for his very first effort at directing.  Based on a Joseph Conrad story called The Duel the film had Hollywood stars Keith Carradine andThe Duellists poster Harvey Keitel in the unusual roles of French officers during the Napoleonic wars.  Keitel as the rabid Bonapartist Feraud is notoriously touchy and can be antagonised by anything that he perceives as a slight upon himself or his idol Napoleon, no matter how trivial, and the opening scenes show him dispatching a fellow officer with ruthless efficiency.  Feraud is humourless,  volatile and dangerous and a man without a single shred of compassion.  Keith Carradine as the easy-going D'Hubert inadvertently falls foul of Feraud's capacity for illogical anger and cannot believe that a chance remark should prompt such an extreme reaction and he tries to dissuade Feraud from duelling with him.  Feraud cannot be reasoned with and D'Hubert is unwillingly forced into the first of many duels with Feraud.  The two protagonists are well- matched and there is never a conclusion to satisfy Feraud whose perverted sense of honour demands that D'Hubert must die.
The careers of the two officers follow the course of the Napoleonic wars and occasionally diverge to the great relief of D'Hubert who is weary of the constant demands upon his honour by his relentless nemesis.  On the occasions when they meet Feraud inevitably demands satisfaction and D'Hubert is forced to fight over and over again until in the concluding duel D'Hubert gets the upper hand and has Feraud at his mercy refusing to kill him despite Feraud's demands to do so.  D'Hubert spares Feraud with the words ;
" I have submitted to your notions of honour long enough,  You will now submit to mine"
I am very wary of attributing allegorical undercurrents to any film for the simple reason that they can so easily be just figments of the imagination. Not only that I have seen films with allegorical sub-plots which make very little sense {
Poseidon comes to mind } and there is no mention of any allegory in The Duellists.  However, In the Duellists everything points to the inescapable assumption that the duels are allegories of Napoleon's battles with nations that he has forced to fight and his belligerence across the battlefields of Europe.  D'Hubert's reluctance to fight and eventual wearying of duels are parodies of a war-weary Europe finally overcoming Napoleon.  The final scene of Feraud with his back to us gazing out across the landscape copies faithfully the sketches of Napoleon on St.Helena.  
The allegorical nature of the film is my assertion and is not proven at all but what is true is that Scott's story is based upon a real-life series of events in Napoleonic times when a Captain Dupont and a Captain Fournier fought an incredible 17 duels over a period of 19 years.  The duels are more or less as Scott tells it.  Joseph Conrad also found the story intriguing and was inspired to write a short story called appropriately
The Duel on which the film draws much of its material.
Even if you can't be bothered with the allegories this is still a very fine film and captures  perfectly the aura surrounding Napoleon and the dog-like devotion it inspired in many of his followers.  And above all else there is some nerve-tingling swordplay.

Thief   { 1981 }
Director : Michael Mann
Thief poster
Just like its anti-hero, Frank { James Caan }, Thief is a taut, tense and tough movie.  Set in a cold and rainy Chicago,  it is film noir revisited as ex-con Frank tries to break free from his life of crime by funding it via the eponymous "last job".  The problem is that Frank is a master cracksman and his skills are in demand by a crime syndicate.  At the same time he is beset by corrupt cops demanding their share of the takings -- Frank inhabits a dismal and depressing world of crooked cops and crooked crooks.  He dreams of a life in suburbia with his new wife, Jessie { Tuesday Weld } but is constantly sucked down into the netherworld he has inhabited for so many years.  Battered by the police and betrayed by the syndicate, Frank's method of  breaking free from his past is more than interesting and less than conventional.
James Belushi has little to say in his debut outing but that indefinable "presence" which all stars have, draws you to him whenever he is on screen.  Tuesday Weld made her debut 25 years earlier { 
Rock, Rock, Rock 1956 } preceding Debbie Harry by a generation as every schoolboys dream.  It's just a shame that her career has never included any major roles as judging by this performance she has been under-performing for most of the time.  Robert Prosky as Leo, the head of the syndicate, is living proof of the banality of evil, switching from syrupy father-figure with a touch of Fagin to vicious overlord at the touch of a trigger. Great example of nouveau noir, largely overshadowed by Michael Mann's later achievements.

On Golden Pond  ( 1981 )
Director : Mark Rydell
When the irascible Norma Thayer and the indomitable Ethel Thayer come together in their lodge on Golden Pond there can only be one result ---- an Oscar for Henry Fonda as Norman and an Oscar for Katharine Hepburn as Ethel.  The two vintage Hollywood icons have both matured like fine wine and the chemistry between them is palpable as they play an old married couple, still very much in love as they approach the twilight of their lives.  The dialogue and the situations they both findOn Golden Pond poster themselves in affirms the adage that old age is not for wimps and says it all about the aging process as Norman finds himself afraid as he walks alone in the woods and Ethel soothes him like a child.
From the time that his daughter Chelsea ( Jane Fonda ) arrives with her fiance
 ( Dabney Coleman ) and his son Billy played superbly by Doug McKeon,  the atmosphere between them is electric.  An unwilling Billy is left with the old couple when his father and Chelsea go off alone and youth and age are thrown together.  Initially, Norman and Billy clash but little by little they form a working relationship and eventually become friends.  There is a defining moment in their relationship and in the film itself when Billy suddenly awakens to the realization that Norman's aggressive bellowings are caused by his fear of his impending death.  Norman knows that his once strong body is failing him and his once fine mind is degenerating and a meaningful life is coming to an end.
More than just an excellent film,
On Golden Pond mirrored real life, and in the same way that Chelsea and Norman came together in the movie, Jane and Henry Fonda were reconciled after years of estrangement between the pair ---sadly, it was just before his death.
the scenery on the lake is beautifully photographed and the scenes around the lodge are straight out of the Norman Rockwell portfolio and although the subject matter is on the serious side it's never morbid.  The sadness of  meaningful and productive lives coming to their conclusion is tempered with a wry humour as Norman rages against fate and Ethel, just like all women, faces death just as she faces life -- with coolness and courage.
If you like fine acting from vintage Hollywood icons and you like dialogue which is sharp and incisive and you need a break from laconic cops and flying bullets then this is the film for you.

Greystoke : The Legend of Tarzan
{1984 }
Director ; Hugh Hudson
Christophe Lambert as Tarzan and as a baby cradled by KalaEdgar Rice Burroughs was born in 1885 in Chicago and his first novel was A Princess of Mars written in 1911, which introduced the character John Carter who still pops up here and there in comics and reprinted novels. But his most enduring creation came to light the following year in a novel called Tarzan of the Apes which immediately captured the imagination of a whole host of fantasy fans. Tarzan came into the world at a time when Africa was still The Dark Continent, when incredibly gorillas were demonised as savage beasts and exotically-dressed native tribes were to be avoided at all costs --- the existence of a white Jungle Lord in the midst of all these dangers was irresistible to Tarzan readers. Burroughs had never been to Africa but his fertile imagination conjured up all of the preceding dangers and as book followed book, Tarzan faced even more bizarre foes. However, the original and first novel had not yet reached that stage and the story was not altogether implausible ----an English aristocrat and his wife cast away on the coast of Africa, beset by wild animals and eventually killed by apes with their baby taken and nurtured by a she-ape, Kala who was eventually to grow up as Tarzan.
Of course it wasn't long before the first movie came out in 1918, with Elmo Lincoln playing Tarzan in
Tarzan of the Apes in aHogarth's Tarzan reasonable adaptation of the first novel. But Hollywood soon strayed from Edgar Rice Burroughs's conception of the Ape-Man and he very soon evolved into an all-round good guy where Johnny Weissmuller dispensed justice to wrongdoers in a sort of Jungle Book land while living in a tree-house in the jungle version of suburbia. He was pals with all the natives and all the cute animals and occasionally rolled over and over with the same crocodile in every film. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan was a million miles away from his screen portrayals ----he was as wild as the apes who brought him up and fought and lived as one of them.  Far from having a faithful band of Waziri on permanent standby Tarzan's idea of fun was to sneak into the native villages in the middle of the night and after slaying as many of the blacks as he could, would mount their heads on poles for the tribe to awaken to. The animals he came across were never cute ---he ate most of them --and all in all he was a creature to be feared as much as the tribe of mythical apes that brought him up.
It wasn't until 1984 that Hugh Hudson bravely reverted to the original story with the grand title of
Greystoke : The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes choosing for his leading man the virtually unknown Christopher Lambert who has done nothing as good before or since. Tarzan of the Apes is essentially a Victorian melodrama and the choice of Lambert as an English aristocrat turned out to be inspired. His glowering visage when angered contrasts with his little-boy- lost to perfection and Andie McDowell as Jane has no difficulty in falling for his charms. There is very little of the by now hackneyed battle with a crocodile or lion or whatever ---the film concentrates more on Tarzan's rehabilitation into civilisation and his reaction to the manner in which his erstwhile family of apes are held in captivity.
There are some outstanding cameo performances and some memorable scenes : Ralph Richardson as Greystoke's grandfather is excellent in particular in the dining table scene while Ian Holm brings his own brand of acting to the role of Tarzan and The Golden Lion Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot. One of the tensest scenes in the film is when D'Arnot is being chased by savages and is suppressing whimpers of pain as he lies wounded in the crook of a tree while they search for him below. It has to be said that the tribe of apes leave a little to be desired in the way of authenticity but all in all
Greystoke is a far more faithful and accurate rendition of Burrough's creation that has gone before. The definitive Tarzan remains to be made but Hudson has gone far in showing the way and has made the most faithful version of the story to date.
Strangely, since
Greystoke, Tarzan as a character has gone into decline and not just on film but in the medium of comics which is sad because he inspired dozens of top class artists to produce some beautiful work over the years. Burne Hogarth was the finest of them all and his work has been copied over and over again by various artists but never to the same quality.  Hogarth captured the essence of Burroughs's Tarzan to perfection and again it is a mystery why his art is passing into obscurity, sought after only by a small minority of fans.
Tarzan is one of the great icons of western popular art and has endured for nearly a century and there's little doubt tha
t he's out there now in some primeval jungle stacking up a whole heap of new adventures for a brand new audience.  It is inconceivable that he never returns.

Jean de Florette { 1986 }
Manon des Sources { 1986 }
Director : Claude Berri
From the novel by Marcel Pagnol
Don't be put off by the French sub-titles --- even the average Frenchman would be hard put to follow the Provençal argotJean de Florette with Gerard Depardieu and Yves Montand throughout the film. Marcel Pagnol was born and bred in Provence and his intimate portrayal of the glorious countryside and its inhabitants, written in 1963, has been turned into a delightful and moving film. The two titles are deceptive as they are one and the same film and do not stand alone.
The Mediterranean sunshine and the famous flowers and herbs of the Provençal countryside are pervasive throughout just as the undercurrents of envy and covetousness from the locals are also pervasive when Jean de Florette and his family arrive.  Jean de Florette played by Gerard Depardieu is big and jolly and the head of his tiny clan consisting of his wife and daughter. He has arrived to claim his inheritance consisting of a run-down farm and the land that goes with it and his enthusiasm and indefatigable spirit in working his land begin to produce results within a very short time. The locals who have remained hostile are not impressed and de Florette's industry and the results it brings only serve to inspire even more jealousy and envy. Once the pin-up of French teenagers, an aged Yves Montand plays Le Papet who is the malevolent instigator of an increasingly vicious campaign to bring about the downfall of de Florette.
Emmanuelle Beart as ManonThe contrast between the happiness and simple joie de vivre of the Florette's and the meanness of spirit of Le Papet could not be more explicit but there is no warning of the shock ending that concludes Jean de Florette.
The focus of the second film is upon the daughter of de Florette named Manon, played by Emmanuelle Béart, who has the same stubborn defiance as her father. The Provençal countryside is even more of a feature in this film and introduces many more of the picaresque villagers as Manon, now a shepherdess, spends her days in the hills among the animals and flowers.
The easy-going style of the film is in keeping with the unhurried way of life of the land but despite its length it is never dull and has some surprising twists and turns in the plot. The most surprising is in the very last reel which in one scene strips bare the venality of human nature in the face of God's nature and the heavy penalty it can exact and in its way is just as shocking as the ending to the first film.
Apologies for the less than explicit description of the proceedings but it would never do to give away the plot of this fine film.
Yves Montand has matured like fine wine and his tour-de-force performance is particularly poignant because his wife was dying as he filmed. Once the golden couple of the French film world, Montand and his wife, Simone Signoret were at the pinnacle of their success throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's. She passed away as the film ended and the stunningly beautiful Simone Signoret's grave can be seen in Pere Lachaise beneath a weeping birch.

Someone to Watch Over Me
{ 1987 }
Director : Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott's first foray into neo-noir has gone largely unnoticed but there's a lot to like about this subtle, stylish and sexy film.Tom Berenger
While Tom Berenger can be described as a movie star he has never truly entered into the " household name" category which is strange because he has all the attributes to be right at the top. In this film he plays New York detective Mike Keegan assigned to guard Claire from an assassin. Their social and topographical backgrounds are at opposite ends of the spectrum ---she is a classy, upper Manhattan socialite living in a luxurious apartment while Mike is struggling to make ends meet in a less than salubrious area of Queens.
Claire is played by Mimi Rogers who is better known for being married to Tom Cruise in a previous life but again her performance begs the question why she is not far higher placed in the pantheon of Hollywood beauties. In fact, this part is possibly the highlight of her career and a tribute to Ridley Scott for bringing out the best in a very neglected artist.
Thrown together for long periods, the inevitable happens and Mike falls for Claire's charms which has a profound effect upon his home life and in particular his street-wise wife, Ellie. Lorraine Bracco plays Ellie in that remarkable mix of elfin-cute mixed with wonderfully expressive facial expressions and the voice of a Brooklyn stevedore.
Mike is bemused by contrasts that he has never before encountered and moves from his merely functional home and the earthy mores of Ellie by day to the swish and arty home of Claire and her seductive and sophisticated allure by night --- and back again.
The contrasts are cleverly underlined by the background music ranging from "Marie, Marie" by the Blasters as Ellie cleans the windows to "Viens Mallina" and George Gershwin backgrounds as Claire arranges her latest soirée.
You could do a lot worse than watch some great little performances on a Winter's evening, cuddling up with a glass of wine while the wind is howling and the rain is falling outside and Tom Berenger is coming close to losing it all.

Revenge { 1990 }
Director; Tony Scott
From a short story by Jim Harrison.

Revenge, the story, can be found in the same collection as Legends of the Fall. Unlike Legends, there's no epic sweep in Revenge--- it is simply a chapter in the life of Jay Cochran { Kevin Costner } ---- it is nevertheless a traumatic and unforgettable chapter.
The film opens with Jay retiring from life as a fighter-pilot and taking a sabbatical while he decides his future. At a time in the past which is never defined Jay has saved the life of Tiburon 'Tibby' Mendez in a way which is never recounted and he has been invited to visit his home. The home turns out to be a palatial mansion set within its own grounds and Tibby, played by Anthony Quinn is surrounded by henchmen and bodyguards and obviously someone with connections. Anthony Quinn plays the part of the urbane, charismatic and sophisticated crime-boss to perfection and subtly lets us know that beneath the mask lies a corrupt and controlling persona. All this is of little importance to Jay until he begins an affair with the voluptuousRevenge with Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn and Madeleine Stowe Mireya, the wife of Tibby.
Mireya is played by Madeleine Stowe who manages to be seductive and vulnerable at one and the same time. She is far younger than Tibby and he has "acquired" her rather than courted her ---she is his possession, a trophy wife.  Nevertheless, he has a genuine affection for her and she has learned acceptance until Jay comes along.
Jay and Mireya soon find each other's presence intoxicating and begin to play a dangerous game in which they are soon discovered. The consequences are far more devastating than either of them could imagine. In Tibby's world the slightest word can be construed as an insult and the greatest insult possible is to take another man's wife. Where women are concerned the customs and passions of the Mexican Tiberon Mendez are from the same code of honour of the Sicilian and his vengeance is terrible and final. In a punishment straight from a medieval courtroom, Tibby slashes Mireya's face from ear to ear and sends her to a whorehouse for the rest of her days. Jay is assumed to be dead.
Taken in by a Mexican family, Jay survives and begins his quest to find Mireya and exact his
Revenge in turn.
Tony Scott is the younger brother of Ridley Scott and has directed among others,
Days of Thunder, Top-Gun, True Romance and The Fan. Revenge is not nearly so well known as any of them and didn't do well at the box office but it is certainly up there with any of them for impact and entertainment value. The beginning of the film as described above is quite outstanding and extremely shocking with Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn and Madeleine Stowe outstanding together. It loses its way a little in the middle as Jay searches for his lost love and comes together again in a moving finale but overall Revenge is a fine movie deserving to far better known.

The Sheltering Sky { 1990 }
Director : Bernado Bertolucci
From the novel by Paul Bowles
I don't as a rule watch foreign films { ie; films in a language that is not English } because much is lost in translation and The Sheltering Sky posterthere is sometimes an arty-farty feel about many of them. However, of the very few that I have been impressed with The Sheltering Sky is high on the list and has the added advantage of being filmed in English.
To understand and appreciate the film it is helpful to know the background of the author Paul Bowles who was born in Queens, New York City, but spent 52 years in Morocco with his wife Jane, embracing Moroccan culture and translating erstwhile unknown Moroccan authors into English. He died in Tangier in 1999 in the small apartment that he had lived in for years but his legend lives on among the Moroccan literati. At the beginning of the film he can be seen sitting in the hotel foyer on the Tangier waterfront as the passengers disembark ship and he can be seen at the end in the same foyer ----- the once-proud waterfront hotel can still be seen but is sadly dilapidated. For anyone wondering how the great man could be seen in a film dated 2000 when he died a year previously should note that 2000 is the release date.
Even knowing the background, Bertolucci's translation onto film is difficult to comprehend but has obviously been made with loving care and being open to several interpretations is not necessarily a bad thing ---at least it makes you think. Debra Winger and John Malkovitch are Kit and Port Moresby arriving in Tangier circa 1940s, with a safari load of luggage and no clear idea of where they are going or what they are doing and there is a definite touch of Fitzgerald and Zelda about their relationship. Bowles looks up from his newspaper with a jaundiced eye and a sardonic smile.
Finding themselves in a dusty, louche and potentially dangerous African city holds no fears for either of them as they seem oblivious to their surroundings as they live in the luxury hotel and for me this is the whole point of the film --- that they have no conception that there are cultures which are totally alien to their way of life, something which has been levelled at Americans abroad for generations.
Bored with Tangier and bored with each other they head out into the desert with all the preparation you might take for a walk to the park and find themselves in the hinterland where to their credit they begin to enjoy the magnificent scenery. They also begin to enjoy each other once again and the mood becomes quite erotic but it's all done in the best possible taste. They seem to have little concept of danger which is reinforced by their meeting with the eccentric Mrs Lyle and her son Eric Lyle played by the magnificently off-the-wall Jill Bennett and the equally magnificently dotty Tim Spall. The inference is that if these two can enjoy afternoon tea and croquet in the sand then the Moresbys can do the same but what they have failed to realize is that generations of English aristos have survived in every country on the planet in this tin-pot way ---their very strangeness an amulet against danger.
Enamoured of the country, the Moresbys reach the back of beyond where life is harsh and they reach their very own heart of darkness when Port succumbs to typhoid fever and eventually dies. It is only then that it comes home to Kit that they are strangers in a strange land and have paid a heavy price for their ignorance and detachment.
For what its worth, that is my interpretation of this noteworthy movie but I could be totally wrong and there could be some explanation involving metaphorical or allegorical themes that I have missed totally. Even so, the photography is superb and it's always handy to be able to ask the question
"what did you think of Bertolucci's interpretation of Bowles?" at a dinner party or even better walking home after a bag of chips and 12 pints of lager.

Black Robe { 1991 }
Director : Bruce Beresford
On the shores of Georgian Bay, Canada, there is an accurate reconstruction of one of the many Huron villages that existed in this area not too many years ago. No Disney-like Indian village this ----it is a carefully excavated archaeological dig which has unearthed long-houses, palisades, artefacts and a tiny church with the whole site having the wonderfully evocative title of Saint-Marie Among The Hurons.  Champlain passed this way in 1715, closely followed by a Jesuit mission consisting of six missionaries stationed within the village with the other two brave souls spreading the gospel out in the wilderness. TheBlackrobe poster Huron called them Black Robes.
The native Indians of Canada were every bit as fierce as their counterparts in America and perhaps more so, but the Huron accepted the Black Robes with good humour and but for their help the missionaries would have perished in the killing Canadian winters. It might have been as well if they had all died given the fate that was in store for them all when the implacable and bloodthirsty Iroquois came calling. Caught up in a savage conflict between the two nations, the Blackrobes were all captured by the Iroquois and subjected to the most appalling tortures before being burnt at the stake - a fate once reserved for heretics, the irony was lost on the savages.
The martyrs of the wilderness suffered just as much as the early Christians and all have been canonized in recent years ---- their shrine can be seen at the church and stations of the cross just outside the gates of
For some reason, the custodians of
Saint-Marie deny that Black Robe the film has any connection to the village they administer but the similarities are inescapable.
The film, set in the same era as the Jesuits, shows clearly the struggle to survive the winter and is not slow to demonstrate the callous and casual cruelty of the Indians whether they are Huron, Algonquin or Iroquois. Lothaire Blutheau, fresh from his success in
The Jesus of Montreal  plays Father Laforgue who is travelling from Quebec to the Huron villages. The hardships of the wilderness are countered by the courage and faith of the Black Robes in their desire to convert the savages but Laforgue has an even greater struggle when he discovers that the Huron have a religion of their own based upon dreams and the world of night.
Bruce Beresford in a complete departure from
Driving Miss Daisy  has directed an historically correct adventure using a wholly French-Canadian cast which is almost in the category of being a documentary.
English wrestling enthusiasts of 50's and 60's vintage would sit up at one name in the cast list --- that of Billy Two Rivers. Largely forgotten except for an older generation of wrestling fans it's difficult to describe just how popular Billy was at that time even though every bout followed the same format ; Billy would get a hiding for 3 rounds and then just when he was about finished he would summon up his last reserves of strength and following a war-dance with his Mohawk haircut standing proud he would demolish his opponent with his famous "tomahawk chop" - nice to see then and nice to see now.
House of the Spirits

The House of The Spirits
{ 1993 }
Director : Bille August

The House of The Spirits is an epic story set in South America spanning the years between the 1930's and the 1980's and relating the fortunes of the Trueba family ---a sort of Forsyte Saga South American style. The novel is far better known than the film which has vanished without trace and seems to be valued only by Isabel Allende fans which is a little strange because it has a cast to die for ---- Meryl Streep as the ethereal Clara del Valle Trueba, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Antonia Banderas, Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Irons riding rough-shod over them all.
The story itself is of course long and complex but the scenes where the spirits appear to Clara but to nobody else are truly hair-raising. If you are into family sagas then you could do far worse than this very watchable picture.

This Boy's Life { 1993 }
Director : Michael Caton-Jones
From the autobiography by Tobias Wolff
This Boy's Life passed unnoticed and unheralded when it was released and is quietly fading into obscurity which is a shame as it contains among other things another facet of Robert de Niro's acting skills. Perhaps the inauspicious title has held it back ---- The Shawshank Inheritance hung around for years until word of mouth recommendations by film buffs turned it This Boy's Life with Leonardo di Caprio, Robert de Niro and Ellen Barkinaround ---- but whatever the reason it deserves a better fate.
Tobias Wolff's account of his unhappy adolescence, growing up in the 1950's is related and acted by a 12 year old Leonardo di Caprio who has never done anything better to date. Toby's life consists of being dragged all over the country on one Greyhound bus after another as his feckless mother Caroline { Ellen Barkin } makes her escape from a string of disastrous relationships. She attracts the worst kind of no-hopers and losers but goes ahead and plunges straight into another relationship almost as soon as she descends from the bus in the town of Concrete which is as mundane as its name. On the surface, Dwight { Robert de Niro } is an amiable dork, all goodwill and bonhomie, declaring Concrete to be a lovely little town and believing that an adroit flip of his zippo is a sophisticated and enviable social asset. As their relationship develops, Dwight's true nature emerges slowly as he turns from small-minded petulance into overbearing and dictatorial. In a desperate attempt for some stability in her life Caroline marries him and from that time onward he directs his vindictive and spiteful nature upon Toby whenever the occasion arises. His own three cowed and repressed offspring live for the day when they can leave the family home.
The character of Dwight begins to dominate the film just as he dominates Toby and he delights in humiliating the vulnerable boy every chance that he gets. De Niro appears to have borrowed from Captain Queeg on one occasion when he counts the chocolates in a jar and discusses in depth the amount of mayonnaise left. His neurotic obsession with trivia is bad enough but his dislike of Toby turns violent and he imposes his will with increasingly harder blows.
There is one tragic/comic scene where the whole family are restraining from laughing out loud as Dwight plays the sax and another where a clip of the Cheryl Turner /Johnny Stompanato trial is on TV and Dwight and Toby look at one another meaningfully.

Needless to say, Toby is a very unhappy child and seeks solace among the town no-marks but his real outlet is his friendship with the homosexual Arthur Gayle.
Arthur is played by Jonah Blechman and he is quite brilliant in his role of the mincing Arthur, slowly and painfully coming to terms with his sexuality -----to be the only gay in Concrete is not an enviable situation.  As Arthur, Blechman manages to convey the joyfulness of youth and the sensitivity of an intelligent youth awakening to life's harsh realities --- Arthur is not in many scenes but he manages to steal every one.
Toby and Caroline eventually realise that escape is the only answer and as they once again run away Dwight's whole self-pitying persona is illustrated by his final words
"What about me" ? ringing in their ears.
Tobias Wolff had a traumatic childhood to be sure but he can take consolation in the fact that out of it has come a great read and a great film which could be some comfort to some other kid out there living with a Dwight.

Once Were Warriors  { 1994 }
Director : Lee Tamahori

Powerful, violent and hard-hitting are hardly expressions that are usually associated with the peaceful islands of New Zealand but they are fitting descriptions of one of the very few memorable films to come out of those islands.
Once Were Warriors posterJake Heke dominates the film with his muscular and menacing presence in just the same way as he dominates his fearful wife and family. Sometimes charming, sometimes maudlin, sometimes ingratiating but more often vicious and sadistic, Jake's bouts of drunkenness and violence become more and more frequent as he thrashes about trying to find some meaning to his life. There is a great deal of irony in the fact that unemployed, drunk and a wife-beater he persists in trying to instill what he perceives to be worthwhile values into his long-suffering children.
Whilst there is no excuse for Jake's behaviour which ultimately leads to his downfall the film is at the same time a parable of the plight of the Maori nation and its loss of identity in the modern world. Ethnic minorities all over the globe, from Native Americans to Zulu warriors will empathise with the Maori people depicted in this film and the similarities between nations overtaken by colonialism is striking.
Therefore, the film works on two levels and is a serious study of loss of national identity and its effect upon indigenous peoples. The peaceful image of New Zealand today hides the fact that the Maoris were an extremely proud and warlike nation and their wars with British colonists were bloody affairs with no quarter given or taken ---take a look at the Haka for some idea of how a Maori warrior went into battle. Jake's fighting spirit and combative nature is derivative of this era and the bar-room battles are wincingly graphic. The domestic violence also pulls no punches and although we may understand Jake's problem it is difficult to sympathise with a man who has everyone living in the shadow of his violent
Jake is not the man you want to pick a fight with in a bar and Temeura Morrison's plays him to perfection while Rena Owen is also superb as his long-suffering wife, Beth. The film is not for the squeamish but certainly paints a graphic picture of the underbelly of New Zealand society and is an introduction to a whole cast of native Kiwis who would be impressive in any company.

Legends of the Fall  { 1994 }
Director : Edward Zwick
From a novella by Jim Harrison
Legends of the Fall poster with Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn
Legends of the Fall is a Homeric saga of grand proportions set in Montana, spanning the years from the 1880's to the 1860's. Epics such as these are normally to be found bending the legs of coffee tables because their massive bulk is too heavy to hold up in bed but Jim Harrison has performed the incredible feat of condensing the whole story into a novella. Director Edward Zwick has omitted nothing from the original story but in fact has made several additions and alterations without detracting from the source and has also performed wonders in fitting the whole saga within the narrow parameters of a film.
It's the mark of a good film when the members of the supporting cast are as memorable as the main stars and Zwick has taken Harrison's cast of characters and carefully imbued their screen personas with a singular personality of their own. Each of the players in the film is as fascinating as the next in their own distinctive way -----from One Stab { Gordon Tootoosis } the Cree Indian narrator to Pet Decker played by Tantoo Cardinal { who can also be seen in
Black Robe } and her husband played by Paul Desmond. Neither of the latter have many lines in the film but both have that indefinable "presence" which draws the eye to them whenever they are on screen. The O'Banions, the Sheriff, the police officers and all the rest are brought to life by Zwick's caring direction.
The focus of the film is the Ludlow family headed by Colonel Ludlow {played by Anthony Hopkins with his usual careless brilliance } who has tired of so-called civilization and has taken his three sons to live in the wilds of Montana. Each of his offspring have distinctive personalities, varying wildly from the idealistic Samuel
{ Henry Thomas } to the pragmatic Alfred { Aidan Quinn } and onto the wild and restless Tristan { Brad Pitt }. When Samuel brings home the beautiful Susannah Fincannon { Julia Ormond } it would be traditional to believe the time-worn cliché that she is the catalyst for all the catastrophic events that follow and on the face of it there is some truth in that. However, closer scrutiny reveals that most of the happenings are triggered by Samuel himself who is instrumental in leading his brothers into the horrors of the Great War in some vague obsession about following in his father's martial footsteps.
Charged with looking after Samuel, Tristan is distraught when his brother dies in a hail of bullets trapped on barbed wire. From then on, Tristan is haunted with misplaced guilt and his behaviour becomes even more erratic as he fights his demons. Susannah has demons of her own to contend with as does Alfred and the death of Samuel has a profound effect on the whole family splitting them all asunder and scattering them to the four winds. The intricacies of the plot and the fate of each of the characters are far too complex to relate here ---- suffice it to say that it is fascinating to discover just what happens to each and every one of them and quite moving on occasions.
Although the twists and turns and nuances of the plot are diverse none of it comes across as contrived and all of it is quite credible. Beginning at a leisurely pace, the intricate and subtle plot is never dull or slow and as it goes along it gathers speed accordingly until in the final thirty minutes it is travelling like an express train. In fact the finale of this film is one of the finest that I can recall, bringing together all the loose ends in an explosive and surprising finish.
One of my all-time great movies ---- understated and underrated. A family saga of the old school which avoids all the melodramatic traps of the genre.

The Shawshank Redemption { 1994 }
Director : Frank Darabont
It's difficult to b
Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemptionelieve that a film with such excellent credentials would ever make it into the "Lost and Found" section but that's exactly what happened to The Shawshank Redemption. It was off the radar for several years simply because the title is less than inspirational and even now there are people out there who are missing out for that very reason ---if you didn't know and there was a choice between Shawshank and Mission Impossible et al which would you go and see ? And so, for a long time the film was watched by a few of the more discerning film fans only and knowing quality when they saw it a sort of cult status began to arise at one time. Since then, word of mouth recommendations have ensured that Shawshank has entered the mainstream and it is slowly but surely coming to be seen as one of the finest films of all time.
There is an elusive "je ne sais pas" quality to
Shawshank and anyone who is asked what they think of it invariably breaks into a grin and a nod of appreciation.
Frank Darabont has made a delightful movie from that rarity which is a Stephen King short story minus any horror connotations with the intriguing title of 
Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption. Stephen King is a master storyteller and Darabont has retained that intimacy between audience and cast by using Morgan Freeman's rich baritone to relate the story as he sees it. The old con { Red Redding } personalises the story to such an extent that it is as if he is speaking directly to each member of the audience and the effect is enthralling.
Tim Robbins invariably chooses parts which are intelligent and unusual but he will wait a long time before another Andy Dufresne comes along. Likeable and easy-going, Andy is as vulnerable as you and I would be in a tough prison yard but to the wonderment of Red he exhibits talent after talent for survival which finally leads them both to freedom.
An understated masterpiece of film making ---watch
the film, read the story.

The Bridges of Madison County { 1995 }
Director : Clint Eastwood
From the novel by Robert James Waller

There's no action, there's no bad guys to shoot at and it's set mostly within the confines of an Iowa farmhouse and as it is first and foremost a love story I would say that this is a "woman's film"and not for me and I suspect that this is why it never took off at the box office. However, in an idle moment I had read a compilation of short stories by the author and found them to be outstandingly well written and extremely moving. Robert. J.Waller has the disconcerting habit of writing beautiful prose and giving it such mediocre titles that it is a wonder he has sold any books at all. Puerto Vallarta SqueezeOld Songs in a New CaféBorder Music are hardly inspirational but they are all excellent reading and Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend is a hauntingly beautiful love story set in America and India. The Bridges of Madison County hardly set the cash boxes jangling on its release but it is in fact one of Clint Eastwood's finest films, stating eloquently that he has become an actor and director of many talents.
Bridges of Madison County posterOstensibly, the film is simply a three day love affair between an itinerant photographer and a bored housewife but in reality it is about unfulfilled dreams and lives unlived. Francesca Johnson { Meryl Streep } has met an American soldier during the war in her native Italy and like so many G.I. brides her romantic images of life in America have been shattered ; she lives in an isolated farmhouse with her teenage children and adoring husband and although she loves them all, her triumph and her tragedy are that she is extremely intelligent and has the soul of a poet with no way to fulfil her potential.  Women everywhere will identify with Francesca as she puts her families needs before her own. On the other hand, Robert Kincaid 
{ Clint Eastwood } is a well-travelled man of the world ----on the surface self-sufficient and needing nobody, but underneath is more vulnerable and fragile than his appearance will allow ; his romantic life-style is missing the one thing that Francesca has ---the stability of a loving wife.
The pair of them complement each other and the chemistry between them is palpable ; in fact the first stumbling steps they take on the way to an affair are far more erotic than all the naked romps which seem to be obligatory these days. There are scenes at the beginning and end of the film where Francesca's son and daughter pore over her diaries and her love affair which comes as a revelation to them both. Surprisingly, these portions of the film are quite mediocre and can only be attributed to the lack of charisma by the actors involved but they do serve the purpose of highlighting just how good Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep really are in their roles.
When Francesca sees Robert for the last time as she glimpses him dimly through a torrential rainfall it is an extremely moving finale to an old-fashioned and unashamed weepie,  as they reluctantly sacrifice their mutual love.

House of Sand and Fog { 2003 }
Director : Vadim Perelman
 Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog

Novel by Andre Dubus 111
Has largely passed unnoticed by the average cinemagoer who is missing an excellent film which is unusual in the very ordinariness of its suburban setting and the absence of psychos, weirdos or gunplay. The film revolves around something as mundane as the purchase of a house on the California coastline and slowly evolves into a Kafkaesque web of council bureaucracy and red-tape which escalates into tragedy beyond all proportion for the parties involved. In many ways stories such as this are far more chilling than all the bloody knives and hoary skeletons of the traditional horror tale and the reason is simply because any of us could be caught up in such events and therefore identify strongly with the characters. In fact there are few of us lucky to have escaped some sort of bureaucratic tangles but for those who have been involved it can be extremely stressful so the nightmarish situation that Kathy { Jennifer Connelly } finds herself in expanded to nightmarish proportions is very identifiable.  Sir Ben Kingsley as he will readily tell you is excellent in the part of Colonel Behrani caught up in the ever-escalating conflict with Kathy which eventually leads to unforeseen tragedy for all of them.

Black Rain  { 1989 }
Director; Ridley Scott
The sun never shines in a Ridley Scott movie; everything is played out in a claustrophobic smog of apocalyptic landscapes, no matter if they are on earth or in outer space.  Bladerunner's Decker would be quite at home in Scott's Osaka of rain-mist and gloaming and smoke from street vents, where the only lights are neon or strobe and even Ripley would find little difference from the Alien planet of stygian gloom.  By replicating those same landscapes, Scott has cleverly made 1980's Osaka just as alien to New York cops, Conklin and Vincent { Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia respectively } ------ they are without doubt, strangers in a strange land.
The setting is everything to this film ---- it is an omnipresent backdrop of looming disaster, sinister forces and unseen menace where lorries and cars take on a futuristic aspect and the action takes place amid a forbidding jumble of concrete and steel.  The final scenes in the steelworks are as satanic and scary as the corridors of the Nostromo and Scott's world is one where our man-made landscapes appear to function without human aid and have taken on a life of their own.
Take away the backdrop and you have a good action movie ------ add the atmospheric surrounds and you have a superb film -noir with Ridley Scott's unique style stamped indelibly all over it.
As for the acting, Michael Douglas's flawed cop is riveting ----never more so than when he is interacting with Ken Takakura's staid Japanese detective.  Andy Garcia seems destined to play sidekicks all his career ---the penalty for his youthful good looks perhaps ?  He never really made it beyond playing second string which is a shame because Garcia has real screen presence and it is also a mystery because there has never been any shortage of gangster movies in which he would have excelled.
All in all, Ridley Scott with Black Rain, takes the cop genre to a higher plane and a different place --brilliant!  

I recently bought Black Rain for 50p in a car-boot and  is an example of a movie I had seen but never appreciated just how good it was or just how good a Director Ridley Scott could be.

And so it goes on, with so called "blockbusters" making millions and worthier films ending up unknown and unheralded.  An excellent example is a Bruce Willis epic involving itself in the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda where Bruce leads a gung ho band of soldiers on a march to save a number of refugees.  There are bullets flying everywhere and selfless heroism and so on ad infinitum---in fact it is so memorable that I can't even remember the name. A much less obtrusive film is the thoughtful and thought provoking Hotel Rwanda  which is occupied with the same subject but in a much more intelligent manner.  There is very little action but there is an element of fear engendered throughout the film more by the implied violence than the overt.  But how many people going to a multiplex would choose the latter against the former ?





To be continued

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