Michael Redgrave

The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)

I don’t get it.

When I watched the film, I had no idea The Innocents was considered some masterpiece of British cinema. I’m actually rather surprised by the acclaim. Similarly, I’m shocked Deborah Kerr considered her performance in this film her best. It’s not a bad performance by any means; the plotting constrains it a great deal. I guess considering those constraints it’s a good performance. I was much more impressed with Megs Jenkins’s performance, seeing as how it was, well, unconstrained.

Perhaps some of my confusion is over a forty-year-old Kerr playing a twenty-year-old. I thought she was supposed to be playing a forty-year-old. I guess I can see it being different if her character is supposed to be twenty. Makes a backstory a lot less important (her character has no backstory, one of the major problems if you’re watching it with her being forty–and her age is never mentioned, so I don’t see as how it’s my fault).

Technically, it’s a good film. Freddie Francis had a lot of difficult shots to do in the dark and, while they aren’t the most successful things in the world (it’s not like Gregg Toland’s shooting this one), it’s a fine attempt. Clayton does get some really disturbing compositions in, but it’s never exactly scary. The film’s got two ways to go, either of them could be scary, but Clayton purposely ignores these options, so as to make the film… atmospheric without frightening.

Eh.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, with additional scenes and dialogue by John Mortimer, based on a novel by Henry James; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Jim Clark; music by Georges Auric; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora), Clytie Jessop (Miss Jessel) and Isla Cameron (Anna).


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962, Tony Richardson)

Despite its title, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner doesn’t really concern itself with loneliness and the only long distance running is secondary in the narrative. The film’s really something of a social piece, made rather conspicuous in the third act, with the comparison between the public school and the reform school. That moment, with the public school students appearing to be rubes, seems a little off. Wouldn’t they be wary of the delinquents?

The film’s about a teenage delinquent (twenty-five year-old, and it shows, Tom Courtenay) who proves to be an excellent runner at reform school. Headmaster Michael Redgrave (in a throwaway part) has a big thing for athletics, having been a runner in his younger days, and Courtenay becomes his new star. But the majority of the narrative is flashback, leading up to Courtenay being caught and sent to the school. His crime is identified, in a narratively flimsy scene, when he talks to the school counselor. The counselor, who practically opens the film, is a fine example of Loneliness‘s biggest problem–it forgets about people.

With an hour and forty minute running time, one might think Loneliness had time to keep track of its principal cast, but the counselor is the first to go, followed by James Bolam, who appears in the modern action from the flashback without any solid narrative reason. So much of the film is spent in flashback, with Courtenay really doing well (if looking eight years too old) in those scenes. But it’s also in those scenes where the film reveals itself–the story’s not about a teenage delinquent off at reform school, it’s about a son adrift following his father’s death–and the reform school scenes can’t really compete, because they’re disconnected from that character.

The end, of course, tries to bring everything together, but Richardson’s style–five second repeats of earlier scenes–doesn’t work at all. Richardson’s direction here is mostly solid, even excellent, but the little flourishes (the film uses a jazz score to poor effect) distract from his otherwise fine work. There are some beautiful long shots of the training runs, with Walter Lassally’s black and white cinematography exquisite. A scene at the beach, with Courtenay and girlfriend Topsy Jane, is also very well done; Richardson can’t quite marry the technical quality and the story, however.

Alan Stillitoe adapted his own short story, but the content–and the way so much is left out–suggests he added material to make up for feature length. The result, combined with the seemingly overpowering urge to make a statement, is a confused film. It’s interesting technically (and historically), competently acted, but entirely dispassionate. Richardson’s going for a certain amount of distance, but he never quite makes the case of Courtenay’s character deserving our attention. At home, with the death of the father, definitely; at the reform school, not so much, which might be why those scenes become less and less prevalent as the running time progresses.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Tony Richardson; screenplay by Alan Stilltoe, based on his short story; director of photography, Walter Lassally; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by John Addison; production designer, Ralph W. Brinton; released by British Lion-Columbia Ltd.

Starring Michael Redgrave (Ruxton Towers Reformatory governor), Tom Courtenay (Colin Smith), Avis Bunnage (Mrs. Smith), Alec McCowen (Brown, House Master), James Bolam (Mike), Joe Robinson (Roach), Dervis Ward (Detective), Topsy Jane (Audrey) and Julia Foster (Gladys).

The Hill (1965, Sidney Lumet)

The Hill is quite a few things–Sidney Lumet doing another stage adaptation, almost in real time, a la Twelve Angry Men, a prison drama, a race drama, a military drama, and an example of a decent Sean Connery performance (not a particularly good one, but a decent one). It’s incredibly contrived–desert British prison camp in World War II, new prison officer comes along the same day Connery arrives along with four other men, who aren’t split up. The guards heckle Ossie Davis for being black, get in to with Connery because he struck a superior officer, and tease the soldier who wants to go home to his wife. The other two new prisoners are just there to hang around. Over the present action of the film, a day and a half, one prisoner dies and the entire power structure gets threatened by all these elements brought conveniently together for a hundred and twenty minutes.

A good deal of the film is deceptively good, until it becomes clear the present action is going to take place in that practical real time. Lumet’s direction is fantastic as well. Starting the film, I thought how it’d be funny if it were Connery cast against leading man-type… unfortunately, it is and the film quickly descends into a common (relatively) innocent prisoner against sadistic prison guard, without doing anything more interesting than setting it in the British army.

All of the performances are quite good (except Michael Redgrave, who spends his screen-time looking confused)–Harry Andrews in particular–but when the film goes off track, fitting so many consequential events into such a short period, it’s impossible for it to recover. The screenwriter (who adapted his own play) doesn’t just have a dumb plot, he has incredibly careless dialogue–one of the men says goodbye to Connery and says something about suggesting they’d known each other for a long time… instead of thirty-eight hours or so.

Ossie Davis is the best in the film; he gets the most interesting action after a while–once the script turns Andrews into a caricature, after almost promising he was going to remain a character throughout–and many of Davis’s scenes are a joy to watch. Because Connery is visibly against type, intentionally against type, he doesn’t really have a character to work with. He needs to remain mysterious, to draw attention to himself for not being a leading man. The result is his performance not being as good as it could have been. He has some real potential in a few scenes, but again, the script’s more concerned with being a momentous condemnation of the British military mindset.

By the end, almost everything interesting has been drained from The Hill. Characters are presented, at the beginning, as being this sort of person or that and then later flipped around to get the film to the necessary conclusion. They don’t change, they aren’t revealed to have been deceiving everyone. They just flip. It’s the filmmakers are deceiving the audience, packaging their film as a social message as opposed to a narrative.

I do appreciate the film is without any musical score, but it’s not a surprise (I noticed at one point there should be one and there wasn’t), as Lumet doesn’t do anything wrong the entire time. Except, of course, not getting a decent rewrite on the script.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Ray Rigby, based on a play by Rigby and R.S. Allen; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Thelma Connell; produced by Kenneth Hyman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Sean Connery (Joe Roberts), Harry Andrews (R.S.M. Bert Wilson), Ian Bannen (Harris), Alfred Lynch (George Stevens), Ossie Davis (Jacko King), Roy Kinnear (Monty Bartlett), Jack Watson (Jock McGrath), Ian Hendry (Williams) and Michael Redgrave (M.O.).


The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Lady Vanishes might be the most fun Hitchcock ever lets an audience have with one of his films. Vanishes maintains a comedic sensibility throughout and for the most part, that sensibility overtakes the mystery element. Even the mystery element gives way to an action element–besides North by Northwest (which only barely qualifies) and Foreign Correspondent, The Lady Vanishes has the most action of any Hitchcock film. It’s also jingoistic in a good way, something Hitchcock couldn’t pull off when he was doing 1940s American propaganda. The British really look good at the end of The Lady Vanishes and he pulls it off beautifully.

The film opens with a miniature of a Central European mountain village. The camera moves slowly in on the village, across the train platform, behind some buildings, to the inn where the film begins. It’s a fantastical shot, impossible to duplicate with a location (the logistics of a helicopter), though CG might “work.” It also establishes Hitchcock’s approach to the filmmaking in Vanishes. Whatever he can use to facilitate storytelling, he uses. It’s a different approach to filmic storytelling and it would be gone from Hitchcock by 1941 and popular film in the late 1940s. Once “realism” became so important–the film being “real” (absurd) as compared to reality, instead of being authentic to itself–films stopped being technically invigorating on the content-level. Skillful camera work is one thing, but getting excited about seeing it is another. While it does happen, it happened a lot in the 1920s and 1930s.

The film also has one of Hitchcock’s best cast ensembles. Besides Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as the cricket-obsessed comedy relief, there’s also the adulterous couple (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers) who some comedy, but more drama, for the viewer to engage with. The early scenes at the inn are played entirely for laughs, so when the mysterious elements of The Lady Vanishes start, Hitchcock has to change tone quickly. To do so, he switches (just for a moment) perspective–instead of the English commanding the room of Europeans, it’s the British subject at the mercy of the strange, quiet Europeans on the train. Margaret Lockwood’s character starts out in Lady Vanishes as an entitled jerk, but her concerned for the titular disappeared lady, along with her great chemistry with Michael Redgrave, really warm her character. She doesn’t actually have a character arc–nothing changes except the need for her to be different–but she and Redgrave are so good together, suspension of disbelief holds he can be doing it (really, really quickly). Redgrave is a good leading man, funnier than most, but just as stoic when he needs to be. Their relationship is so good, I know I’m slighting it, but I have to get on to Paul Lukas, who plays the best villain in any Hitchcock film. Lukas is particularly fantastic in the film.

I remember the first time I watched The Lady Vanishes, on the Criterion DVD, I had seen some British Hitchcock already and knew it would be technically different. But from the opening shot, to the comedy in the inn, it was clear from the start Vanishes was going to be excellent, an exciting film to experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White; director of photography, Jack E. Cox; edited by R.E. Dearing; music by Louis Levy and Charles Williams; produced by Edward Black; released by Gainsborough Pictures.

Starring Margaret Lockwood (Iris Henderson), Michael Redgrave (Gilbert), Paul Lukas (Dr. Hartz), Dame May Whitty (Miss Froy), Cecil Parker (Mr. Todhunter), Linden Travers (‘Mrs.’ Todhunter), Naunton Wayne (Caldicott), Basil Radford (Charters), Mary Clare (Baroness Nisatona) and Emile Boreo (Boris the Hotel Manager).


The Heroes of Telemark (1965, Anthony Mann)

I was going to start this post saying I’d never seen Richard Harris so young before, but I guess I have seen The Molly Maguires, which was a little later, but he was still young. He’s larger than life in The Heroes of Telemark, nothing like how I’m used to seeing him. He’s got to be larger than life, just so he can appear visible next to Kirk Douglas (as my fiancée pointed out, during their fist fight, “he expects to beat Kirk Douglas?”). Douglas and Harris play Norwegian resistance fighters in World War II, something I’m sure Norwegians were really happy about back when Telemark came out. It’s a British production too.

When I started watching it, I didn’t know what it was about and my World War II knowledge doesn’t go as far north as Norway, so I’d never heard about Telemark or its heroes. The film’s dedication told me though–that these heroes stopped the Nazis from developing the A-bomb first. Right away, since I knew the heroes would be successful, I didn’t get worried. There’s a formula–Kirk Douglas probably won’t die, Richard Harris might die, and all other good guys are fair targets (especially if their wives are pregnant). I think Anthony Mann realized this predetermination was going to play against him, so he turned the sabotage scene into a tribute of the resistance fighters’ hardships. Long scenes of them cross-country skiing to the target (if anyone is ever looking for good, filmed cross-country skiing, Telemark is the film to see), difficult repelling, rough terrain. The sequence feels long (I didn’t time it) and Mann succeeds… except the resistance fighters don’t.

Since I didn’t know the actual history, just the opening’s recount of victory, I had no idea what was coming next, which is when the film started to get interesting. Douglas, who spent the first half of the film seducing women–the irresistible physicist–starts acting in the second half. Harris, who was good in the first half, unfortunately disappears. The film only gets a little better, but it’s free of its initial expectations, which at least makes it interesting.

When the film started and I saw Anthony Mann’s name, I got him confused with Nicholas Ray. Now I’m looking at their filmographies and both started in noir cheapies, so now I don’t know why I was confusing them… Mann’s all right, but Telemark is from the era when models were out and original footage was in. So instead of model bombers, there’s real bomber footage on different film stock. For some reason, it really bugged me in Telemark, but it often bugs me. The use of that footage draws the viewer out of the film, reminds them there’s something going on besides the film. Never a good thing. (I know why it’s on my mind, Mogambo had the same problem).

Telemark’s storytelling is too formulaic not to be aware its formulaic. There’s an artificial earnestness to the film and it’s hard to take that earnestness seriously, when Douglas is groping every woman in sight… though I’m sure its one of the reasons he took the role. I read his first autobiography, but I can’t remember. As an example of the extinct war thriller genre, Telemark isn’t bad. It’s better than many of them. But, for example, as a Kirk Douglas film, it’s bad. Douglas started making bad films around this point. Telemark’s not the bottom, but it’s on the way downhill.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Mann; screenplay by Ben Barzman and Ivan Moffat, based on books by John Drummond and Knut Haukelid; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Bert Bates; music by Malcolm Arnold; produced by Benjamin Fisz; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Dr. Rolf Pedersen), Richard Harris (Knut Straud), Ulla Jacobsson (Anna Pedersen), Michael Redgrave (Uncle), David Weston (Arne), Sebastian Breaks (Gunnar), John Golightly (Freddy), Alan Howard (Oli), Patrick Jordan (Henrik), William Marlowe (Claus), Brook Williams (Einar) and Roy Dotrice (Jensen).


Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)

Dead of Night is an Ealing anthology from 1945. I don’t know where it fits in the history of anthology films–films composed of a number of shorts, with or without a “bridging” sequence to tie them–because I’m not particularly familiar with the genre. I saw Dead of Night because movielens recommended it, recommended it a little too highly.

The four short films that comprise Dead of Night are fine, some quite good. There’s a disturbing ventriloquist one, starring an excellent Michael Redgrave, and a gentle premonition one about a race car driver. The first two stories don’t take up as much time as the second two, since the first half of the film is also establishing the “bridging” story. It’s not enough to have four short films playing one after the other, Dead of Night tries to wrap a fifth story around the others….

The film fails because of that fifth story. It’s predictable and, by today’s standards, relatively cheap. Though maybe not. I mean, Memento was cheap and no one thought so, so maybe Dead of Night has just as much fictive merit as it did back in 1945. But it doesn’t deserve the merit, because it’s cheap. My dread of the anthology film–especially one with bridging scenes–is that the characters are going to be secondary. Dead of Night realized that fear. The characters are all thin, though amiably played by all the actors, and there’s no depth to the film. It’s a collection of some–mildly–uncanny stories and it’s mildly amusing. If it had been just a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel like I stayed up late to scare myself for nothing. It didn’t even scare me.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer; screenplay by John Baines, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, based on stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, Baines and MacPhail; directors of photography, Jack Parker, Stanley Pavey and Douglas Slocombe; edited by Charles Hasse; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Eagle-Lion Films.

Starring Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Google Withers (Joan Cortland), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Ralph Michael (Peter Cortland), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Barbara Leake (Mrs. O’Hara), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Miles Malleson (Hearse Driver) and Johnny Maguire (Dummy).


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