Et Al. Oct18

Napoléon (1927)

Abel Gance’s epic filming of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte is a production almost impossible to address in a standard review, not least because there is no such thing these days as “the” version of the film. In the first instance Gance planned a series of six films covering the entirety of Napoleon’s life, but after the first proved such a monumental undertaking, the idea was scrapped. Nevertheless, the first film when completed ran over 9 hours! This, the so-called version définitive, subsequently gave rise to a mindboggling number of variants, as the film was cut and re-cut to suit different countries, audiences and screening facilities. (The version that initially screened in the US ran only 110 minutes!) During the 1970s, film historian Kevin Brownlow undertook the monumental task of trying to restore the original production, and eventually succeeded in reconstructing approximately 5 hours of footage (projection speed was and is an issue). This version screened at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with Abel Gance himself in attendance. Variant cuts continue to appear, however, with the most readily accessible version being that produced by Francis Ford Coppola and scored by Carmine Coppola, which runs something over 4 hours—and which was the version I watched. Though lacking much of Gance’s detail and a number of subplots, this is still a comprehensive telling of Napoleon’s life from his boyhood at Brienne College, a military school where the young Corsican is a scorned outcast despite his precocious aptitude for strategy, through to his assumption of command for the 1796 French military campaign in Italy. Though undoubtedly a remarkable piece of film-making, Napoléon is not without some serious flaws. It is overly simplistic at the level of character; it does that irritating, wise-after-the-event biopic trick of having everything in Napoleon’s early life foreshadow later events; while its determination to turn Napoleon into something of a Christ-figure – rather too literally the “saviour of France” – is more than a little uncomfortable. There is also a lot of assumed knowledge here, with names, dates and terminology tossed at the viewer generally without context; although that said, knowledge gaps here may also be indicative of how accustomed we are these days to seeing these events from the British perspective. However, on the technical level this film is an extraordinary achievement, full of experimental visuals including “modern” techniques such as the use of hand-held cameras (Gance may have invented shaky-cam!), point-of-view shots, underwater photography, rapid cutting, multiple exposures and superimposition. Most notable of all is Gance’s use of “Polyvision”, an early experiment in widescreen film-making requiring three screens. In some sequences, Gance uses the screens to construct a Panavision-esque single image; in others, he uses them to create a triptych of images—often with Napoleon in the middle, looking upon his various works to either side of him. While all this experimentation and innovation makes Napoléon consistently watchable, the film does fall short with its acting, which is (to say the least) lacking in subtlety. Albert Dieudonné’s Napoleon is all eye-liner and prophetic gazes to the heavens; while the revolving cast of supporting players who surround him leaves the viewer needing a scorecard. (A few more title cards would have been handy, at least.) Abel Gance is part of that supporting cast, appearing as Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, the “Angel of Death” of the French Revolution—and indulging himself with a series of loving close-ups, as well as having Saint-Just courageously defy the Convention, while a cowardly Robespierre quakes in the background.

The Mystery Of Mr X (1934)

A man calling himself simply ‘X’ carries out a campaign of murder against London’s uniformed policemen, as the newspapers howl for the blood of Sir Herbert Frensham (Henry Stephenson), the Commissioner of Scotland Yard. When a fifth murder occurs at the site of the theft of a valuable diamond, it convinces the police that the murderer and the burglar are one and the same. This causes a serious dilemma for jewel-thief Nick Revel (Robert Montgomery) and his accomplices, taxi-driver Joe Palmer (Forrester Harvey) and insurance clerk Hutchinson (Ivan Simpson)—with Revel deciding that it will be the best thing for everyone if the real X is arrested as soon as possible… Based upon the novel X v. Rex (US title: The Mystery Of The Dead Police) by Philip MacDonald, who also worked on the screenplay, this is a much simplified – not to say dumbed down – version of its source. In twisting a psychological thriller into a romantic drama, this adaptation reduces the novel’s main focus, the serial killing of policemen, to a mere plot device; at the same time not only eliminating the ambiguous handling of the character of Nick Revel, but turning him into the story’s romantic lead. The results are a film sufficiently engaging in itself, but off-putting if you’re familiar with the book. As a result of these drastic changes, the substance of The Mystery Of Mr X is not the hunt for X, but rather the twin threads of Revel’s romance with Jane Frensham (Elizabeth Allan) and his personal duel with the suspicious Superintendent Connor (Lewis Stone). Recognising that the best way to deflect attention from his own criminal activities is to get the real X arrested (shades of M), Revel seeks a way of gaining the ear of Sir Herbert Frensham. His chance comes when Christopher Marche (Ralph Forbes), Jane’s fiancé, is arrested for the murder of another police officer, whose helmet he stole in a drunken prank just before the man was killed. Revel and Palmer provide Marche with an alibi, stating that they saw the murdered man alive after Marche’s departure. As Revel anticipates, this intervention earns him the gratitude of Jane and her father, including an invitation to dinner. While this provides him with an opportunity to suggest to Sir Herbert various tactics for trapping X, the evening has two unexpected and serious consequences for Revel: he finds himself falling in love with Jane, and begins seriously contemplating reforming his life; and he attracts the attention of Connor—the latter so extreme, that at last Revel is driven to prove his innocence of the murders by disguising himself as a policeman, and setting himself up as bait for X… In and of itself, The Mystery Of Mr X is an entertaining film. Robert Montgomery is in his element as the debonair Revel, wearing evening-dress while robbing safes, and coolly walking into the lion’s dens represented by a courtroom and Scotland Yard itself. The rest of the cast is also solid—although there is a certain dishonesty about the boorishness of Ralph Forbes’ Christopher Marche, intended (as always in these triangular stories) to assuage any viewer guilt over his being summarily dumped for another man. Otherwise, the film’s main strength is the black-and-white cinematography of Oliver Marsh, who makes the most of London’s shadowy corners.

British Intelligence (1940)

Based upon a play by Anthony Paul Kelly. During WWI, the British forces suffer terrible losses due to the work of an espionage ring led by a man called Strendler. When it is decided at headquarters that there is no alternative but to withdraw the best British agent from Germany and put him on Strendler’s track, a young pilot called Frank Bennett (Bruce Lester) is sent to retrieve him. However, this too is betrayed, and Bennett’s plane shot down. He survives the crash but is critically wounded, recovering only due to the devotion of his nurse, with whom he falls in love. She, in reality, is a German spy, Helene Von Lorbeer (Margaret Lindsay). Recalled to German High Command, and given a decoration for her efforts, Helene is then sent to England, where a traitor called Thompson (Lester Matthews) has arranged for her to be taken into the home of Cabinet Minister Arnold Bennett (Holmes Herbert), in the guise of a refugee from German brutality. Helene is startled to realise that Bennett is Frank’s father, but reassures herself with the thought that Frank is still in France. Helene soon discovers that her contact in the Bennett household is the butler, Valdar (Boris Karloff), who tells her he is in communication with Strendler. The two begin a campaign of espionage… British Intelligence is a slight but entertaining thriller, in which everyone seems to have at least two identities, and where there are so many double-, and triple-, and even quadruple-crosses, it starts to make your head spin. The opening scenes, in which the British officers insist on keeping a gardener at their command post, and discuss highly classified information in front of open windows, are like something out of Blackadder; while some of those set in England, which suggest that during the war, approximately 90% of the people in England were German spies, are likewise rather absurd; but once the film settles down to focus upon the activities of Helene and Valdar – and the question of who each of them really is, and what they’re really after – it manages some suspenseful sequences. Margaret Lindsay is effective as Helene, particularly after suspicion of her is raised and she must think on her feet to protect her secret identity. Boris, meanwhile, is hampered by the fact that his role as Valdar requires him to put on an accent, something he always struggled with—probably because his own voice and accent were so distinct. The rest of the cast lends fair support, but this is really a two-person play—literally, of course, in the first instance. Anthony Paul Kelly’s stage-drama, Three Faces East, had been filmed twice before under that title: a silent version in 1926, starring Jetta Goudal and Clive Brook; and an early talkie from 1930, with Constance Bennett and Erich von Stroheim.

Black Dragons (1942)

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a group of American industrialists meets at the home of Dr Bill Saunders (George Pembroke): the men are in fact fifth columnists, responsible for sabotage and damaging propaganda. The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of a Monsieur Colomb (Bela Lugosi), who insists that he is dangerously ill and must see Saunders at once. Some time after the doctor has left them, the others hear a cry of terror from the room in which Saunders is examining Colomb—but when they rush in, the doctor tells them in a strangely calm voice that nothing is wrong. After the others depart, Saunders, still speaking in a dull, flat voice, tells his butler, Stevens (Joseph Eggenton), to prepare a room for Colomb. Meanwhile, Kearney (Max Hoffman Jr) finds his cab already occupied by Colomb; later, Kearney’s body is found on the steps of the Japanese embassy, a ceremonial dagger clasped in one hand. At the house, Saunders’ niece, Alice (Joan Barclay), arrives for a visit, but is told by Stevens that her uncle is ill and cannot be disturbed; she is worried by the presence of Colomb. FBI agent Dick Martin (Clayton Moore) is sent to question Saunders, but is likewise unable to see him. Alarmed by Kearney’s death, and unable to contact Saunders, Ryder (Edward Peil Sr) and Van Dyke (Irving Mitchell) try to see Wallace (Robert Fiske) at his hotel. Instead they find his body—a Japanese dagger in one hand… Rushed into production following Pearl Harbor, Black Dragons is an astonishing piece of tosh even by the standards of Monogram Pictures—although unfortunately, unlike many of the Monograms, it isn’t really bad enough to be funny. Though only an hour long, Black Dragons is a drag despite the presence of Bela; and only the late-film revelation of the absurd and outrageous “secret” driving the action makes it worth sitting through. (Though I cannot in conscience recommend that anyone watch this twice, in some ways it plays better if you know in advance what’s going on.) The main point of interest here is the screenplay’s curious handling of Bela’s M. Colomb, who is all but treated as—well, not the hero, but at least the anti-hero, as he cuts a swathe through the cabal of saboteurs; even to the point of Alice Saunders admitting that she finds him attractive: all of which gains a disturbing edge, a postiori. Otherwise, the combination of a colourless supporting cast and the usual half-assed Monogram approach offers little to the viewer. Future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore is dull as the actual hero, but the script does a bit better by Joan Barclay, by this time a familiar Monogram face. Alice, like almost everyone in the film, has a secret: not enough is done with it, but it is pleasing that Martin generally takes her fears and suggestions seriously. Among the supporting cast, the only person of note is Robert Frazer—reunited with Bela ten years after White Zombie.

Cage Of Gold (1950)

Though on the verge of committing to Dr Alan Kearn (James Donald), when aspiring artist Judith Moray (Jean Simmons) is reunited with Flight Commander Bill Glennan (David Farrar), she is dismayed to find her feelings for him as strong as ever—despite his abrupt desertion of her during the war. Impulsively, Judith breaks with Alan and marries Glennan; but the marriage lasts only until Glennan makes the belated discovery that Judith’s family has lost all their money. He then not only abandons her, but takes everything that might be worth anything, leaving her destitute. When Judith realises that she is pregnant, she turns to Alan for help. She is still recovering from the birth of her son when she reads in a newspaper that Glennan was one of those killed in a plane crash; shortly afterwards, she and Alan are married. Unbeknownst to the couple, when Glennan left Judith it was to rejoin the Paris-based band of currency smugglers with whom he worked during the war; and that when the plane crashed, another man was using his passport. While pursuing the daughter of a wealthy banker, with blackmail rather than marriage on his mind, Glennan sees a photograph of Judith and her son in the society pages of an English newspaper—and sees the opportunity for an even more profitable venture… An Ealing film, directed by Basil Dearden, Cage Of Gold has numerous virtues on the production side, including its cast and its art direction and black-and-white cinematography. However, it is badly let down by Jack Whittingham’s screenplay, in which all the “nice” people behave throughout with exasperating stupidity; while the not-nice people aren’t the kind you can side with either. The only thing more annoying is the film’s attitude to Bill Glennan, which takes the tiresome “girls want bad boys” cliché to untenable lengths. Glennan is not only a complete rotter, he takes no pains to hide it; yet we’re supposed to believe that he can’t move for women of all walks of life throwing themselves at him and letting themselves be trampled on. It’s a great relief when an intelligent inspector from Scotland Yard finally shows up and does the law-enforcement equivalent of knocking everyone’s silly heads together. The story shortcomings in Cage Of Gold make it impossible to measure the contributions of the three stars – the characters are just too irritating – but there are some good performances in the film’s supporting roles: Bernard Lee as Inspector Grey; Gladys Henson as Judith’s loyal companion / housekeeper; Herbert Lom as the head of the smuggling gang; and particularly Grégoire Aslan as the banker-father of Glennan’s Parisian mark, who refreshingly treats him as he deserves.

The Hour Of 13 (1952)

This remake of The Mystery Of Mr X bears even less resemblance to Philip MacDonald’s source novel than its predecessor: it has been turned into a period drama, with the action pushed back to the 1890s. The reason for this isn’t evident, as no particular advantage is gained by it. Perhaps the producers felt that the story wouldn’t work with a contemporary setting, but that the 1930s weren’t far enough distant; or perhaps (like all those BBC productions that shift everything to the 1950s, regardless of the damage done to the material) it was simply because they had the costumes and sets. In spite of this choice, there is very little real difference between The Mystery Of Mr X and The Hour Of 13, with the former’s screenplay having been given a cosmetic makeover but identical in its essentials. This time around, the policemen of London are being picked off by someone calling himself ‘The Terror’. Meanwhile, jewel-thief Nick Revel (Peter Lawford) has set his sights upon a valuable emerald owned by Mrs Chumley Orr (Heather Thatcher), who is giving a ball at which the engagement of Jane Frensham (Dawn Addams) to Sir Christopher Lenhurst (Derek Bond) is to be announced. Revel succeeds in infiltrating the party and securing the emerald, but as he makes his escape from the house, he is horrified to stumble over the body of a murdered policeman. He flees the scene, unaware that he has left the emerald’s setting, from which he pried the jewel, at the scene. When it is discovered, the police conclude that the murderer and the jewel-thief are one and the same, forcing Revel to take drastic action… Despite the altered setting, if you’ve seen The Mystery Of Mr X, the only real interest in The Hour Of 13 is noting where the story was tweaked. There is a certain clumsiness about this production, which applies inappropriate contemporary values to its characters’ behaviour— in particular with respect to its handling of Jane Frensham, who repeatedly dines out and alone with Revel, and visits his flat without a qualm (the earlier film makes much more of that, morally speaking). More worryingly, Jane also passes on to Revel anything she learns about The Terror case from hovering at Scotland Yard or eavesdropping on her father. No excuse is offered this time for Jane’s falling out of love with her fiancé and into love with Revel – she just does – but amusingly, this 50s-produced film takes a much sterner line with Revel himself, having him decide that he must give Jane up for her own sake. Otherwise, it is business as usual, with Revel conspiring with cabbie Ernest Perker (Leslie Dwyer) and insurance valuer MacStreet (Colin Gordon), ingratiating himself with Sir Herbert Frensham (Michael Hordern), and provoking the suspicion of Superintendent Connor (Roland Culver).

A Blueprint For Murder (1953)

Oil executive Whitney “Cam” Cameron (Joseph Cotton) arrives in New York to learn that his young niece has been taken to hospital suffering convulsions for which her doctors can find no cause. The girl seems to be recovering but then suffers a fatal relapse, to the great grief of her step-mother, Lynne Cameron (Jean Peters), and her brother, Doug (Freddy Ridgeway). Under the circumstances, though he is expected by his company to depart for South America, Cam arranges to stay until after the funeral. He spends time with his friends, Fred Sargent (Gary Merrill), who was his late brother’s lawyer, and Fred’s wife, Maggie (Catherine McLeod), a former newspaperwoman. Maggie is intrigued by the circumstances of Polly’s death, and points out to Cam that her symptoms resembled nothing so much as strychnine poisoning. Cam scoffs at this, until Fred adds that, under the terms of his brother’s will, Lynne currently receives only an income—but, should both children die, she would inherit the entire estate… A Blueprint For Murder is a curious film, rather clumsily executed but unusual enough to be interesting, with its depiction of (apparently) cold-blooded murder amongst society’s “nice” people. There is some shocking material here, given the time of the film’s production – child murder for profit, exhumations and autopsies – but it is all presented so matter-of-factly, with such a curious lack of emotion, that the impact is rather diluted. Meanwhile, the advertising art for A Blueprint For Murder, which blatantly presents Jean Peters as a killer, is completely at odds with its narrative, which gets its effect from a did-she-or-didn’t-she scenario, with Cam’s growing fears for the safety of young Doug struggling against his attraction to Lynne, and even more so his instinctive revulsion at the idea that Lynne, who has raised the children and cared for them as a mother since the death of her husband, could have murdered Polly for money. When it is proven that Polly did die of strychnine poisoning, the police build a circumstantial case against Lynne, but it is dismissed for lack of evidence. When Lynne announces her intention of “getting away from all this” by taking Doug to Europe, a desperate Cam, by this time convinced of her guilt, must think of a way to safeguard the boy—and slowly comes to the conclusion that the only way he can prevent Doug from being murdered is to become a murderer himself… While I knew little about A Blueprint For Murder before watching it, the co-casting of Jack Kruschen and Barney Phillips (who play the cops on the case) prompted me to remark during the credits, “What, is this an Andrew Stone?” – and it is, too, made when writer-director Stone was still working within the studio system, and before he formed an independent partnership with his wife, Virginia. This is both good news and bad: A Blueprint For Murder has the usual impressive Stone location work and sense of realism, but it also suffers from his greatest flaw as a film-maker – something which, I now gather, plagued him right throughout his career – the Unnecessary Voiceover. This imposition further damages what is already a muffled sort of performance by Joseph Cotton; while Jean Peters, hampered by the script’s need to have it both ways, is unable to make Lynne a three-dimensional character.

Ugetsu (1953)

Also known as Ugetsu Monagatori and Tales Of Ugetsu. In 16th century Japan, villagers are caught in the crossfire of a civil war between two rival clans: the soldiers of each loot, and rape, and abduct men for forced labour. The need to earn a living persists regardless; and the farmer Genjūrō (Mori Masayuki), who supplements his income with pottery, must leave his wife, Miyagi (Tanaka Kinuyo), and their young son in order to take his wares to market. He is accompanied by his neighbour, Tōbei (Ozawa Eitarō), who dreams of being a samurai, much to the scorn of his exasperated wife, Ohama (Mito Mitsuko). In the town, Tōbei’s ambitions are shattered when he is mocked and abused by the soldiery, who tell him to go away and come back when he has armour and a spear; but Genjūrō makes so much money from the sale of his pottery that he becomes obsessed with the thought of wealth. When he returns home, he devotes all his energy to turning out more and better wares for sale, even as the threat to the villagers looms ever-larger. Genjūrō is encouraged by Tōbei, who believes that a partnership will bring him the money he needs to equip himself. The four neighbours are amongst those who manage to escape into the woods and hide when the soldiers descend upon their village, but the men will not abandon their pottery and risk their lives to retrieve it. A plan to both escape the violence and find a new market leads the four to attempt to carry their goods across the lake to a different town. However, as they cross they encounter a dying boatman who warns them of pirates. Miyagi and the child are set ashore, but a stubborn Ohama insists on accompanying Tōbei. However, once in the town Tōbei flees from his wife when she tries to stop him spending their money on armour, and she too is left to fend for herself. Genjūrō, meanwhile, attracts the attention of a noblewoman, Lady Wakasa (Kyō Machiko), who invites the stunned potter into her mansion… Based upon Ueda Akinari’s short stories, The House In The Thicket and The Lust Of The White Serpent, Mizoguchi Kenji’s Ugetsu is a strange and powerful film, both horrifying and deeply sad. The film marked a breakthrough for Japanese cinema in the post-war era with its screening at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Silver Lion and paved the way for many more Japanese films to find an admiring international audience over the years that followed. Though overtly a period drama, Ugetsu is also a bitter examination of the brutalising effects of war, even upon those not directly involved in it: the increasing callousness and self-absorption of Genjūrō and Tōbei, who put their own ambitions before their responsibility to their families, have tragic and horrifying consequences for both Miyagi and Ohama, each of whom becomes in her own way a casualty of war. But while the first half of Ugetsu is a rather gruelling exercise in grim reality, during its second half it takes an unexpected and unnerving turn, when Genjūrō is invited into the home of the Lady Wakasa. He learns that she is the only surviving member of her once-powerful clan, and is exposed to beauty and luxury that bewilders and overwhelms him—as does the announcement that these things may be his, if he will marry Wakasa immediately. A dream-like interlude follows as Genjūrō, blocking the memories of his old life, revels in these new pleasures. However, when a priest warns him that he is “marked for death”, Genjūrō steels himself to confess to Wakasa that he is married already, and has a child; and in her rage, Wakasa reveals her terrifying secret… The sudden eruption of the supernatural into a war-drama may seem strange to Western eyes, but it reflects much of Japan’s folklore, in which a realm of ghosts and other spirits exists just outside the vision of mankind, and where violence and betrayal have far-reaching consequences in both this world and that other. Mizoguchi moves effortlessly between reality and unreality, so that the viewer may be unaware that the always-thin curtain between them has been torn away. Though not a ghost story as such, and with its horrors more often real than supernatural, Ugetsu became the flag-bearer for the Japanese genre film, even as it was for Japanese film-making generally; reaching an audience hungry for such strange and chilly tales.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

In a time of civil war, the peasants Matashichi (Fujiwara Kamatari) and Tahei (Chiaki Minoru) are captured  by the dominant Yamana clan and become part of a prisoner group forced to dig for a cache of gold believed to be hidden within the ruined Akizuki castle. An uprising gives them the chance to escape but, knowing that the border between the Akizuki and Hayakawa territories is held by the Yamana forces, they devise a circuitous route home through the mountainous Yamana territory, which will allow them to cross at a less important border-point. Along the way, the two find by chance a piece of wood in which some gold has been concealed. However, before they can benefit from their luck, Matashichi and Tahei encounter a man whom they take for a bandit, and a girl they assume to be his kept woman, who have a hidden retreat deep within the mountains. Unbeknownst to the peasants, these are actually the Princess Yuki (Uehara Misa) of the defeated Akizuki clan and her loyal general, Rokurōta Makabe (Mifune Toshirō), who are trying to make their way to the territory of their allies, the Hayakawa clan. Rokurōta initially plans to kill the peasants, but when they confide to him their plan to return home, he adopts it instead—compelling the two to assist with carrying the cache of gold. Disguised as woodcutters, the four set out on their dangerous journey… Kurosawa Akira’s first widescreen film, The Hidden Fortress is an effortless blending of adventure, suspense, comedy and tragedy. It has links to Mizoguchi Kenji’s earlier Ugetsu, in that it likewise uses the device of two men of the farming-class hoping to make their fortunes out of the upheaval of war but finding only disaster, and also takes time to examine the devastating effect of war upon women; but ultimately, it puts this material to a very different use. Much of The Hidden Fortress is told from the perspective of Matashichi and Tahei, whose greed and self-interest makes them extremely untrustworthy allies, but who in spite of themselves play a critical role in the fortunes of the disguised princess and her devoted general. Where this film best succeeds, however, is in the character of Yuki. In so many similar stories (for example, The Prisoner Of Zenda) there tends to be the frustrating sense that the royal for whom all this danger is being faced and these great sacrifices made just isn’t worth it. That is not the case here: despite her tender years, Yuki is a hereditary leader you can imagine fighting and dying for, making Rokurōta’s devotion to her cause understandable and justifiable; while Yuki, in turn, despite her naturally domineering ways, is smart enough to listen to her general and take his advice—most of the time. In her film debut, Uehara Misa makes Yuki a real firecracker, in spite of the plot device that requires her to pose as a mute for much of the film. (In addition to her noble birth, Yuki has been “raised as a boy”, and so gives herself away whenever she opens her mouth.) Meanwhile, Mifune Toshirō is magnificent as Rokurōta, giving an intelligent, nuanced and often funny performance, though one also studded with moments of genuine poignancy. His interplay with Uehara Misa, as Rokurōta tries to both guide and protect his impulsive royal charge, is a delight. (My favourite moment in the film may be that in which a frustrated Yuki snaps at Rokurōta to stop showing her his “loyal face”.) A sweeping Toho production, The Hidden Fortress is full of familiar faces in small roles—including, inevitably, Shimura Takashi, who has a minor supporting role as another of Yuki’s retainers. Fujita Susumu lends excellent support as General Tadokoro, Rokurōta’s counterpart amongst the Yamana forces; while Kōdō Kokuten – he of Gojira fame – also has a bit-part.

(Yes, yes: George Lucas, and all that… Honestly, just stick with this.)

The Brigand Of Kandahar (1965)

Lieutenant Robert Case (Ronald Lewis) returns alone from a dangerous mission in the mountains around Kandahar, his superior officer having been captured by the forces of Eli Khan (Oliver Reed). Already hated for his mixed blood, the fact that Case was having an affair with Elsa Canary (Catherine Woodville), the wife of the captured man, allows his commanding officer, Colonel Drew (Duncan Lamont), to put the worst possible construction upon matters: Case is court-martialed for cowardice, dishonourably discharged, and sentenced to ten years in prison. His confinement is brief, however: Case’s servant, Rattu (Sean Lynch), arranges for his escape, and the two flee into the mountains. There, Case discovers that Rattu is really in the service of Eli Khan. White-hot with rage and resentment against Drew, Case agrees to assist Khan in his conflict with the British… The Brigand Of Kandahar is one of a number of historical dramas produced by Hammer during the 1960s and, as is usually the case with this subset of films, it takes a somewhat revisionist and extremely jaundiced view of its subject matter. It finally becomes, however, an impossible film to enjoy, due to an almost complete absence of likeable or just sympathetic characters—even allowing for the fact that this is pretty much the point. Everyone is as bad as everyone else: the opposing forces mirror one another in terms of their savagery in the field and the lengths to which they will go to gain their ends (the British, as well as the guerilla forces, resort to torturing their prisoners); while despite the injustices that provoke his campaign of revenge, Case himself is impossible to warm up to. This is chiefly due to the way the character is written, being too often passive and distinctly unheroic, but it is also a consequence of Ronald Lewis’s lack of charisma—which is shown up rather cruelly beside the over-the-top flamboyance of Oliver Reed as the unbalanced Eli Khan. Meanwhile, there is a peculiar attempt to set up Elsa and Eli Khan’s sister, Regina (Yvonne Romain), as twin-heroines of sorts; but since both of them are completely despicable in their behaviour – Elsa turns on Case like everyone else, while Regina is more bloodthirsty than her brother without the excuse of being nuts – it doesn’t exactly work. The screenplay eventually offers an outsider-eye view of all the depressing back-and-forth betrayal and slaughter in the form of journalist James Marriott (Glyn Houston); but since he finally comes down on the British side despite his disgust with the British conduct, ultimately he’s not much help either. In its entirety, The Brigand Of Kandahar is a depressing experience.

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

Based upon the novel by “Evelyn Piper” (Merriam Modell). When Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) goes to the school at which her young daughter, Bunny, has just been enrolled, she cannot find the child. In mounting confusion, Ann watches as all the other children are collected, then begins to search the school itself, becoming frantic as the staff show a tendency to make light of her situation. Finally, she calls her brother, Steven (Keir Dullea), who takes an aggressive attitude with the staff and then alerts the police to Bunny’s disappearance. To Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier), the Lakes explain that they have just relocated to London from America for Steven’s job as a journalist. A conscience-stricken Ann adds that, needing to oversee the removal of their property to their new apartment, she was unable to wait to meet Bunny’s teacher, but left the child as instructed in the first-aid room, after the school’s cook promised to keep an eye on her. However, both the cook and the teacher deny ever seeing Bunny. Mobilising his men, Newhouse sets a search for the child in motion, urging Ann and Steven to return to their apartment. There, Ann is stunned to realise that all of Bunny’s things have been taken away. She grows hysterical, but Steven tries to calm her by arguing that if whoever took Bunny also took her things, they must mean to care for her. The Lakes report this development to Newhouse, who adds it to his previous discoveries—realising, not only can he find no-one who admits seeing Bunny that morning, but that he can find no evidence that she ever existed… Directed by Otto Preminger, Bunny Lake Is Missing is an interesting if flawed psychological thriller. Much of its interest lies in its internal clashes, both overt and covert: this production is one of the many “transition” films that marked the breakdown of the studio system during the 1960s, with its placing of young American actors amongst a raft of British stalwarts mirrored in-film by the American Lakes’ exposure to an increasingly alien London, and a peculiar blending of the traditional and the modern – or anyway, “mod” – best summed up as Laurence Olivier Meets The Zombies (the band, that is). As usual, we find Otto Preminger pushing the boundaries here, in the film’s matter-of-fact attitude to Bunny’s illegitimacy, and Ann’s likewise straightforward admission that she contemplated having an abortion. For much of its running-time, Bunny Lake Is Missing holds the viewer’s attention in spite of its credibility issues. Finally, however, it falls foul of my least-favourite thriller convention—that is, having a psychopath who has successfully concealed their condition until exposed as such transition in an instant into a wholly dysfunctional maniac. Nevertheless, as with so many British productions, this film is worth watching simply for its cast. It is anchored by a low-key and rather charming performance from Laurence Olivier, and offers in supporting roles (among others) Noel Coward as the Lakes’ creepozoid landlord, Martita Hunt as an eccentric former schoolmistress, Anna Massey as a school nurse, Megs Jenkins as the hospital kind, Clive Revill as a police detective, Richard Wattis as a travel agent and Finley Currie as a doll-mender—as well as Hammer regulars John Forbes-Robertson, Adrienne Corri and Delphi Lawrence in bit parts; while if you don’t blink, you might spot Oliver Reed. This gathering of British talent does Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea no favours whatsoever, making them seem completely callow and uninteresting in comparison. Denys Coop provided the film’s widescreen, black-and-white cinematography, which makes excellent use of the London locations.

Blind Terror (2001)

Two years after her husband is killed on their first anniversary, environmental designer Susan Brace (Nastassja Kinski) begins a tentative relationship with investment consultant Kevin Markson (Stewart Bick). Although attracted to Kevin, Susan is wracked by guilt and doubt; but her confession of her fears leads to an impulsive trip to Las Vegas and an unplanned wedding. Susan and Kevin’s happiness is not long unalloyed: Susan begins receiving threatening phone-calls, and comes to believe she is being stalked by a woman who hides her identity behind a hat and sunglasses. Meanwhile, Susan must also deal with her sister, Justine (Maxim Roy), whose trust fund she administers under their father’s will, in order to keep the money out of the hands of Justine’s abusive husband, Jack (Edward Yankie). When the persecution of Susan escalates to a break-in at her apartment, and a message scrawled on a mirror, the police are called. Detective Kramer (Jack Langedijk) comments that the situation feels like retaliation from an ex-partner. Kevin then admits that he may know the perpetrator, but adds that he wants to try and deal with the situation himself. Before he can take any action, tragedy strikes—with Susan’s assistant, Peggy (Victoria Snow), murdered in their offices, apparently having been mistaken for Susan… Blind Terror is a fair if rather paint-by-numbers thriller, hampered by an unsympathetic performance from Nastassja Kinski, who looks tired and disinterested throughout, and whose breathy monotone gets more and more irritating. This is also one of those exasperating films that treats someone not being in a relationship as THE WORST THING EVER!!!!—and which doesn’t even have the grace subsequently to acknowledge what is patent to the viewer, namely, that Susan would have been a lot better off had she not allowed Peggy to prod and nag her into dating Kevin in the first place. (I won’t say that Peggy gets what she deserves, but—) The escalating terrorisation of Susan is disturbing, however, even if her persecutor’s ability to come and go and attack in broad daylight becomes rather absurd. It is also refreshing that, even before the murder of Peggy, the police take the situation seriously, rather than brushing it off as tends to be the case in these sorts of suspense films. After Peggy’s death, Kevin reveals that the person they’re probably looking for is a woman called Leslie Seeward, with whom he was once involved; breaking off with her when he realised she was emotionally unstable. When the police are unable to locate Leslie, Susan hires a private investigator, Martin Howell (Gordon Pinsent). Howell manages to track Leslie to a psychiatric hospital in which she was once confined—and what he learns there adds a new and deadly twist to the case… As Howell, Gordon Pinsent gives the film’s best performance; though his character is somewhat overloaded with “charming” quirks. (He put me rather in mind of Walter Matthau’s character in Mirage, a resemblance that turned out to be closer than I really wanted.) Among the rest of the cast, only Jack Langedijk makes an impression as the competent Detective Kramer.

Murder By Numbers (2002)

Homicide detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) is called to the riverside, where the body of a young woman has been discovered. The cause of death is strangulation; while the victim was also stabbed and had a finger severed post-mortem. Instructing her new partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), in correct crime-scene procedure, Cassie points out both a footprint in the mud and some vomit near the river. Later, fibre evidence and a single, non-human hair are found on the body. As Sam begins to put together a profile of the likely killer, Cassie grows suspicious at how exactly everything about the case fits his theoretical parameters. Nevertheless, she follows the evidence to high-school janitor and local pot-dealer, Ray Feathers (Chris Penn). Meanwhile, two high-school students, wealthy, extroverted Richard Mayfield (Ryan Gosling) and brilliant introvert, Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt), destroy the evidence of their involvement in the crime, and congratulate each other on pulling off the perfect murder… I’m quite sure I’m not the only one to say this, but—some productions really ought to avoid having “—By Numbers” in their title. My suspicion is that Murder By Numbers was actually intended as a commentary upon modern, forensics-driven crime dramas, like CSI and Criminal Minds, with their overly simplified yet overly exaggerated technological capabilities, impossibly perfect detection and the invariably weird clues (the latter we can doubtless thank for the otherwise inexplicable baboon); but it goes a little too far in trotting out its tropes, and so comes down in the very territory it purports to critique. The film is still most likely to appeal to fans of those shows, however, provided they don’t take them too seriously. The main narrative of Murder By Numbers is a reworking of the Leopold / Loeb case—or more correctly, of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, with a pair of brilliant but psychologically damaged young men proving their innate superiority to one another by committing murder. Part of their plan is to leave a careful trail of trace evidence which points to Ray Feathers, their chosen patsy; and when Feathers is found shot dead in an apparent suicide, the higher-ups consider the case closed. Cassie’s thoroughness, however, has turned up a clue in the form of unidentified DNA in the vomit found near the body. Ignoring her superiors, she continues to follow a trail that leads her first to Justin, and then to Richard… The presence of a cliché loner-cop-with-a-chip-on-the-shoulder-and-a-bad-attitude is one of this film’s shortcomings, but we do have to give it points for casting – of all people – Sandra Bullock in the role (who executive produced, so it was a deliberate move on her part). In one of his first adult roles, Ryan Gosling has the flashier part of Richard; although Michael Pitt (looking unnervingly like an illegitimate Culkin here) does better as the dominated half of the duo.

Darkness (2002)

Also known as The Dark. An American family relocates to Spain, where the father, Mark (Iain Glen), was born and spent his early childhood: the four move into an isolated house obtained for them by Mark’s father, Albert Rua (Giancarlo Giannini). Though Maria (Lena Olin) settles into a new job at a clinic, the children, teenager Regina (Anna Paquin) and young Paul (Stephan Enquist), struggle to readjust, with the latter evincing a new fear of the dark. Things become more difficult for the family when Mark suffers a recurrence of his Huntington’s disease and begins to undergo violent episodes; while the house itself disrupts their life with frequent power failures, for which no cause can be found. Regina becomes increasingly worried about Paul, who has bruises that Maria insists are self-inflicted, and who begins to draw pictures of injured children. One night, while Mark is having an episode, Paul begins screaming. Regina rushes to his room but cannot get in until the lights come back on, when the door suddenly opens. Later, Paul tells Regina that the children who live in the dark in his room wouldn’t let him out. Regina confides her belief that the house itself is responsible for the escalating problems to her boyfriend, Carlos (Fele Martinez); the two track down the man who designed it (Fermí Reixach). He reveals to them that the house was built to replicate certain specifications seen in ancient temples—and that, after its completion, it was the site of an occult ritual in which six children were killed, with only one escaping… A Spanish-American production co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró, Darkness is a clumsy mix of elements and ultimately makes little sense. Lifting too many touches from films like The Sixth Sense and The Devil’s Backbone, and shifting back-and-forth between haunted-house, childhood-trauma and occult scenarios, the film succeeds neither in being immediately scary, nor in building an atmosphere of increasing unease. It also suffers on the production level from too much whispered / mumbled dialogue, and from having its two important “explanations” delivered by actors speaking heavily accented English, leaving the viewer none the wiser about critical details. (Why does no-one in this film speak Spanish??) And even without this, there are far too many dangling  plot-points: why did the family move to Spain? – how can Regina have a devoted boyfriend if they haven’t been settled long enough to unpack? – what is the significance of the insistent water motif, which never comes into play? – did the other participants in the back-story ritual really just shrug and go home? The characterisations are also highly problematic: we get little sense of the family before their persecution begins, and they spend most of the running-time thereafter yelling at and threatening each other: a situation which makes nonsense of the film’s climax, which turns on their love for one another. The strongest part of Darkness is the relationship between Regina and Paul, but this is offset by Maria’s weirdly cold, passive-aggressive behaviour—that is, she’s aggressive when she shouldn’t be, but also passive when she shouldn’t be. The eventual revelation of the true cause of these events prompts the usual, indeed inevitable, response to any attempt to bring back the Elder Gods and their ilk—namely, “WHY would you want to do that!?” The ending is both mean-spirited and contradicts the in-film rules…besides being (if you think about it) wholly unnecessary.

(For its American release, Darkness was cut from 102 minutes down to 88. The longer version joins a few more dots, but isn’t really any better; though it does have a “photographer developing his own shots in a darkroom sees something scary in one of his prints” scene, which is one of the motifs of this batch of films…)

Darkness Falls (2003)

When her young brother, Michael (Lee Cormie), is hospitalised suffering night terrors, an inability to sleep and extreme fear of the dark, a desperate Caitlin Greene (Emma Caulfield) reaches out to Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley), the almost-boyfriend of her young adolescence, who suffered from a similar affliction. As a boy, Kyle was institutionalised after supposedly killing his mother while in the grip of an overwhelming panic attack; now he lives in the constant bright lights of Las Vegas, heavily medicated and surrounded by his sketches of the masked figure he saw in his house that night… Kyle must tell Caitlin that he has no advice for her that will help Michael, as he never recovered from his own childhood terrors—except that she should never leave him in the dark. Understanding what the boy is really going through, Kyle returns to the small town of Darkness Falls where, some 150 years earlier, a woman named Matilda Dixon was lynched after two children disappeared; children who were later been found safe and well. Matilda had once been a beloved figure, acting as the town’s ‘Tooth Fairy’, to the delight of the children; but after being horribly disfigured in a fire and then suffering her cruel and unjust death, she returned as a terrifying entity, taking revenge in the dark… Darkness Falls is a fair horror movie, built around a good idea imperfectly executed. In many ways it feels (coincidentally or otherwise) like a forerunner to 2007’s Dead Silence, which likewise deals with an isolated town in the grip of a bizarre supernatural curse—and suffers from exactly the same conceptual shortcoming, that is, if this has been going on for so many years, how can the townspeople not know it? – particularly since Matilda targets children who have just lost their last baby-tooth—which is to say, the entire population of the town. Matilda herself is a creepy creation – much more so when wearing her mask, though, than when we see what’s behind it – but so much of the film plays out, necessarily, in the dark, and the editing is so frenetic, it acts against the effectiveness of the concept. Furthermore, the screenplay gives the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© far too much of a work-out, with Matilda repeatedly picking off random bystanders in preference to the individuals she’s actually there to kill; and it also serves up yet another example of my least favourite horror-movie trope, The World’s Darkest, Emptiest Hospital. On the other hand, Darkness Falls does manage some effective sequences, in particular a bravura set-piece that unfolds at the local police station. As is often the case, it is the real-life horrors rather than the supernatural ones that leave a mark when the film is done: the thought of Kyle being locked up as the murderer of his mother; and the ongoing sufferings of Michael Greene, surrounded by people who just want him to go to sleep so that they can turn the lights out. In fact, it is young Lee Cormie who gives the film’s most effective performance, projecting a heartrending air of utter exhaustion mixed with a resigned acceptance of the stupidity of adults. Chaney Kley and Emma Caulfield are adequate as the monster-fighters, and Sullivan Stapleton lends good support as the young deputy who finally accepts the truth.

Dark Remains (2005)

After the brutal murder of their young daughter, Julie (Cherie Christian) and Allen Pyke (Greg Thompson) retreat to an isolated mountain cabin, to work on their grief and their marriage. Though Allen begins to pick up the pieces of his life, Julie remains mired in depression until, more to escape Allen’s company than with any positive motivation, she takes up her photography again. Wandering in the nearby woods, Julie discovers an abandoned prison, and has her interest caught by the workings of light and shadow in its ominous corridors. Developing her photos in a makeshift darkroom, Julie is staggered by what seems to be a glimpse of her dead daughter, Emma (Rachel Jordan), peering through the bars. She shows the photograph to Allen, but he sees nothing. Steve (Jason Turner) and Gail (Crystal Porter), friends from the city, arrive for a weekend visit, and are disturbed to find Julie so withdrawn. During the night, Steve has a terrifying encounter with the distorted, writhing figure of a woman, which seems to pursue him—but then vanishes. He and Gail cut their visit short; though Steve later returns to tell Allen he has discovered that both the previous occupants of the cabin committed suicide there. Angry that this was concealed by the agent, Allen researches the area’s history, and discovers a long list of previous tragedies; while Julie, convinced that Emma is trying to contact her, is oblivious to the growing threat around her… Dark Remains is a film that you want to like more than you ultimately can. For a piece of low-budget, independent horror, it is in many ways an admirable work, offering a number of disturbing and creepy visuals, excellent cinematography, and some interesting ideas. Those ideas are never allowed to have their proper weight, however, due to the imbalanced tempo of its narrative. The film errs in the first place by going for a gruesome, gut-punch opening, rather than allowing us to know something of Julie and Allen before tragedy strikes; it then marks too much time during its first two-thirds before rushing to its climax. Particularly damaging is the incoherent manner in which information is thrown at the viewer during the film’s final phase, which makes it almost impossible to absorb—and which left this viewer, for one, completely confused over how much of the situation was due to human agency, and how much to ghostly. The ghosts themselves are nastily convincing, if perhaps too much of a consistent presence, which finally undermines their impact. There are deliberate echoes of other films here, including The Evil Dead and various J-horrors; though the film did itself no favours with me by pinching bits from the remake of The Amityville Horror! Most of Dark Remains‘ other flaws we can chalk up to its indie background: some of the acting is ropey, and it is obvious that the plot was dictated by available locations, rather than the other way around. (Of all the isolated cabins in all the world, they have to walk into the one next to the abandoned prison?) On the other hand, the film wins an extra point or two for its ending – eschewing both the kicker and the reset button – and for adding one more name to filmdom’s depressingly short list of female cinematographers. The latter, Laurence Avenet-Bradley, also produced the film; while her husband, Brian, edited, wrote and directed.

Death Tunnel (2005)

Medical student Heather Reed (Steffany Huckaby) is persuaded to attend a college initiation party in company with new friend, Tori (Annie Burgstede): a choice that takes a frightening turn when she later wakes to discover herself in a cell within an abandoned building, a mask locked over her head. Unbeknownst to Heather, Tori is in the same situation; as are three other students, Ashley (Kristin Novak), Devon (Melanie Lewis) and Elizabeth (Yolanda Pecoraro). The five are the targets of an elaborate prank engineered by Richie (Jason Lasater), who has had them transported to the dilapidated Vangard Sanitarium. As he observes the girls via hidden camera, Richie announces his scheme of, “Five girls, five floors, five hours”, and gives them instructions on how to play the “game”. The sanitarium has a reputation of being haunted, and Richie and his helpers plan to have the girls terrorised by “ghosts”; but as he watches via the cameras, it is soon evident to Richie that there really is something sinister wandering the corridors of the Vangard, and that the girls are in deadly danger… Wow. The sins of Death Tunnel are many and various, but we’ll start with the most egregious: it was actually filmed within the notorious Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky—a tuberculosis hospital where sufferers were sent to choke out their lives in the days before antibiotics, and which is now considered one of the most haunted places in the world—and manages to make the place seem completely unatmospheric. This outcome is due in large part to the moronic nature of the plot, and part to the endless barrage of visual, editing and time-shift tricks to which Philip Adrian Booth resorts over the course of the production, an irritating grab-bag which he apparently mistook for “film-making”. I honestly can’t remember the last time I lost interest in a film as quickly as I did in this one: unfortunate when the only hope the viewer has of making sense of this mess is paying it far more attention than it deserves. Death Tunnel not only assumes a fore-knowledge of the history of Waverly Hills, which it exploits for its own purposes, but requires it: the film is (I now gather) full of allusions to the most famous paranormal stories connected with the sanatorium—and consequently carries the dreaded “Based on true events” title card. Without this awareness, what unfolds is just one confusion piled onto the next. Meanwhile, the production’s version of the real hospital’s infamous tunnel (converted from a service corridor into a discreet way of removing fatalities from the premises) only comes into play during the film’s climax—where it is put to almost insultingly stupid use. Waverly Hills aside, the main inspiration for Death Tunnel seems to have been Session 9; but apart from their settings the two have little in common. Instead, we’re subjected to pilfering from Saw and the remake of The House On Haunted Hill. There is both a back-story and plot of sorts here, but neither of them make much sense…and make no sense whatsoever if we try to integrate them. Like Shadow Puppets two years later, Death Tunnel finds an excuse to keep its female cast-members in skimpy lingerie for the duration, possibly in a failed attempt to distract from its numerous failings, including the acting. It also – and I’m very well aware of how big a statement this is – offers what may well be the single stupidest gratuitous shower scene in the history of exploitation. However, the most offensive thing about this film is that it finally turns Richie into its “romantic hero”—a process which requires us to ignore the fact that, to get the five girls into this position in the first place, he must have drugged and abducted at least two of them…

Flightplan (2005)

When her husband is killed in a fall, aeronautical designer Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) must arrange to have his body flown from Berlin back to America for burial, while dealing with the grief and fear of her six-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston). Given their circumstances, Kyle and Julia are allowed to board the late-night flight first; Kyle tucks the little girl into a window seat, and they watch together as the coffin is loaded into the hold of the plane. After the plane takes off, an exhausted Kyle carries Julia past their sleeping fellow-passengers to the back of the plane, where there is room for the two of them to lie down and sleep. When she wakes up again, Kyle finds that Julia has left her seat. She goes looking for her, confusion turning to panic as she is unable to find the child. Alerting the flight attendants, Kyle insists upon a search being made—but not only can no sign of Julia be found, no-one else on board has any memory of seeing her… Flightplan is one of those thrillers that works as long as it remains ambiguous, but falls apart when the explanation for its events begins to emerge. While you can’t really feel that this film was the best use of Jodie Foster’s talents, she probably had fun with her increasingly action-girl role; her character is also interestingly prickly, with Kyle’s behaviour becoming obnoxious to a point that works against audience sympathy, in spite of her nightmarish situation. However, for me, given my perverse fascination with planes and what can go wrong with them, by far the most engaging thing about Flightplan was its setting; and as long as the actoon was focused upon either the searches being conducted within the bowels of the Boeing 747 that plays the film’s airliner, or the eventual cat-and-mouse game being played out in same, or had Kyle using her professional knowledge of the plane’s design to force the flight-crew to do what she wanted (nothing like dropping oxygen masks to get a reaction), it held my interest. That said, there’s certainly nothing very original here: the film is simply The Lady Vanishes crossed with Bunny Lake Is Missing, re-tooled for the post-9/11 world. (Speaking of which, the “racial profiling” subplot is by far the film’s most uncomfortable aspect, given that it is neither explained nor apologised for.) Unable to find Julia, and unable likewise to get much help from the flight attendants, who are more intent upon keeping the rest of the passengers quiet in their seats, Kyle finally makes herself a nuisance to such an extent, she draws the professional notice of sky marshal Gene Carson (Peter Saarsgard) and eventually that of Captain Marcus Rich (Sean Bean). When the crew’s first search of the plane yields no sign of Julia, and no-one can be found who remembers seeing her, Rich begins to doubt that the child was ever on board. When he suggests this to Kyle, her violent reaction prompts Rich to place her in Carson’s custody while he makes further inquiries. These yield a shocking revelation—that Julia, too, died in the accident that killed her father…

Non-Stop (2013)

On the eve of the publication of a controversial book exposing the rise of an international terrorist organisation known as “The Brotherhood Of Thule”, author Dr Halperin (Bo Svenson) and his executive assistant, Amy Nightingale (Lacey Chabert), are the target of threats. These are taken seriously enough for Amy to be rushed from her Los Angeles hotel to the airport, in order to catch an immediate flight to Zurich. However, when her intended flight is delayed, she is transferred to an alternate one on which, as the plane is being shuttled back to its base for inspection, there are only nineteen passengers. Exhausted by her recent experiences, including her fiancé breaking their engagement shortly before the wedding, Amy is hoping desperately to sleep through the flight but nothing, not even sleeping pills, seems to help. Her state of mind only worsens when, just before the plane’s wi-fi reception cuts out, she learns that there has been an explosion back at her hotel, possibly caused by a bomb. Finally Amy allows herself to be drawn into a flirtation with a handsome stranger, Mark (Will Kemp): the two share a drink, and kiss, before Amy finally does drift off to sleep…and when she wakes, Mark is missing, and no-one else seems to remember him… And, once again, wow. Non-Stop has the distinction of being one of the dumbest films I’ve had the dubious pleasure of watching for some time. Toss together an international terrorist organisation whose members all seem to be Caucasian Americans (plus the occasional Brit) who look like they stepped off the cover of GQ Magazine, a heroine whose behaviour is so consistently stupid you start cheering for the terrorists, and a swarm of supporting characters who go out of their way to behave suspiciously – or to be so smarmily nice, it amounts to the same thing – and you’re left not knowing whether to laugh or cry; and that’s before they start ripping off Flightplan. The most provoking aspect of the film, however, may be that it gives more weight to the breakdown of Amy’s relationship than to her involvement in anti-terrorist activities; so that we are not surprised when the film’s climax is not the thwarting of said terrorists, but Amy’s new relationship with cute flight attendant, Ronnie (Drew Seeley)—who, the screenplay takes pains to reassure us, is really a sculptor, and only working as a flight attendant while waiting to come into his trust fund (no, really). Amy herself is beyond exasperating: not just in her emotional neediness, but in being presented as some sort of power-intellect while she’s doing things like mixing different medications together and drinking alcohol on top of them. And then she’s surprised when no-one listens to a word she says… There’s eventually A SHOCKING REVELATION that explains why Amy is being targeted, and some amusing hide-and-seek around the near-empty plane; while diversions are offered by Veronica Cartwright as a self-declared “empath”, and Betsy Russell as a bitchy flight attendant on probation for being bitchy, who displays her resentment of her situation by…being bitchy. (Mostly to Amy, though, so more power to her.) In the end, though, I’m not sure that the best thing offered by Non-Stop isn’t the drinking-game you can manufacture out of Lacey Chabert’s constant shrieking of, “I’M NOT CRAZY!!”

Stalked By My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge (2018)

Good grief. Yes, that’s right, folks: Dr Albert Beck (Eric Roberts) is back, determined as ever to find love, the ol’ romantic—and still as creepy as all-get-out. This time around we discover that Beck was found not guilty of the kidnapping of Sophie Green, as seen in the original Stalked By My Doctor, a verdict facilitated by Beck’s across-the-courtroom eye-flirtation with a needy female juror. (Of course, this outcome requires us to overlook that in order to pull off his {*cough*} non-kidnapping of Sophie, Beck (i) stole a cadaver, (ii) set it on fire, and (iii) falsified medical records; as indeed it likewise requires us to forget that in SBMD: The Return, Dr Beck’s new bride died in a fatal honeymoon accident about five minutes after he got through researching fatal honeymoon accidents.) Despite the verdict, Beck’s career as a surgeon is over. Instead he secures a teaching position in the medical department of a university—at which an outraged and vengeful Sophie Green has just enrolled, determined to give Beck a dose of his own medicine. Otherwise, things start looking up for Beck when young medical student Melissa (Anna Marie Dobbins) faints at his feet on the first day of class. Not only does it turn out that Melissa has a thing for older men – much older men – but apparently she’s as whackadoodle as Beck himself; or so we judge from her insistence that, in order for the two of them to live happily ever after, they first need to murder Sophie… Like its immediate predecessor, SBMD: Patient’s Revenge doesn’t quite reach the original’s heights of icky lunacy, but it still has its moments—most notably the hysterically wonderful / awful musical-number hallucination via which Dr Beck celebrates his new romance. It also gives us two Eric Roberts-es for the price of one, with Beck followed around by an Hawaiian-shirted, Jiminy Cricket-esque projection of his own consciousness, who does his darndest to persuade the good doctor that he really needs to give up the dating game – not to mention the abduction-and-imprisonment game – but ends up kicked out of the car on a lonely road for his pains. Brianna Joy Chomer returns as the crusading Sophie, by now transformed from Beck’s preferred physical type into an angry Goth-girl—all the better to contrast with pretty blonde Melissa, who ends up going toe-to-toe with Sophie in order to defend her man…and to stop her using her penis-pruners…

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12 Responses to Et Al. Oct18

  1. Jim says:

    Any movie with a reformed vengeance demon in the cast is OK in my book.

    Like

  2. RogerBW says:

    Not sure what it is about these huge film projects – but I think it may be obsession, where a creator gets so utterly fascinated with something that he can’t bear to leave out any detail. And if that means six nine-hour films, so be it!

    I’ve just recently discovered Philip MacDonald – only read one of them so far, but as a fan of golden-age detective fiction I enjoyed it while finding it just a little different from the standard.

    Does British Intelligence carry much of a tinge of “and we must continue to be vigilant”, given the time of its release? As far as I can tell, there was much more spy-panic in England during WWI than in WWII.

    Ah, mysterious things seen during the developing process… it’s just not the same when it’s sitting there as a file in your camera or phone.

    I wonder if Dark Remains is trying to follow your disaster-movie principle: you murder the daughter in the first five minutes or you don’t murder her at all.

    Eh, a bit of drugging and abduction doesn’t make Richie a bad guy, right? I mean, haven’t we all done harmless pranks when we were younger?

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      I’m reading Philip MacDonald fairly thoroughly at the moment: he was prolific, so there’s lots to do. He writes very good mysteries and thrillers, though unfortunately sometimes infused with the era’s nastier attitudes.

      Does British Intelligence carry much of a tinge of “and we must continue to be vigilant”, given the time of its release?

      Yes, it does, and I actually meant to say so in its review; I may go back and add a sentence or two. It finishes with a “There will always be some psycho who wants to rule the world / There’ll always be an England” speech.

      it’s just not the same when it’s sitting there as a file in your camera or phone.

      I know! – I mourn ‘development process’ scenes the way I do ‘library microfiche’ scenes: they haven’t found an adequate replacement for either. Apropos I watched One-Hour Photo the other day, where creeping obsolescence is the point, of course—yet there it’s all about the coming of the digital camera: there’s not the slightest apprehension of the camera phone.

      I wonder if Dark Remains is trying to follow your disaster-movie principle

      Ooooooooooooohhh! – I recently found a film that violates my principle, and in the most unexpected place! It remains the only one so far, though, so I get to think of it as ‘The exception that proves the rule’.

      Like

  3. therevdd says:

    I think this may be a first: I have not seen a single entry in this particular Et Al. So, since I have nothing cogent to offer, I will just say it makes me very happy to see a new post from you, hon. Take care.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      😦

      Thanks. Of course it helps that this was already about 85% written. For one reason and another, there’s a lower than usual ‘recent genre film’ quotient this time, which probably accounts for our lack of crossover.

      I’m not sure what it says about me that my immediate reaction to that was, “You haven’t seen Black Dragons!?”

      Ahem. My actual reaction is, “You haven’t seen The Hidden Fortress!?”

      Like

      • therevdd says:

        Aw, why the frowny face? Is it because I came off as a Philistine this go-round?

        Yeah, I knew not having seen THF was going to get a reaction. In all honesty, Kurosawa is a director that I have not really explored, and I have no excuse for it.

        The reaction to not seeing BD could be a result of who I watch movies with; it seems like the kind of thing they’d throw into a fest. Just saw The Old Dark House (the 1932 one) thanks to them. Great little film; it was my favorite of the day, since I disqualified The Abominable Dr. Phibes as something that too strongly courts my favor (it’s my favorite Price movie and I’ve seen it several times).

        And it just occurred to me…”You haven’t reviewed The Abominable Dr. Phibes!?”

        Like

      • Jim says:

        I love Vincent Price, but being so awesome leads to overexposure. Just when you think you’ve gotten into a good break from him the subject of Dr. Phibes rises again.

        Like

      • lyzmadness says:

        No, just because I don’t have anything to offer at the moment but frowny faces.

        😦

        See?

        At least you’re aware of your own shame. Start with The Seven Samurai and go from there.

        So few films seem actually pitched at me that I don’t mind if one goes a little too far in that respect.

        If you knew hthe ridiculous amount of time I put into these pieces, you would understand why there are gaps in the résumé…

        Like

      • RogerBW says:

        Or even Theatre of Blood, which I tend to regard as the unofficial third Dr Phibes film. (Plus Diana Rigg!)

        Like

  4. Ray Ochitwa says:

    “having everything in Napoleon’s early life foreshadow later events” It might be my imagination… or a sign of burgeoning curmudgeonhood but it seems to me that the whole “every character and every event in the movie MUST be foreshadowing or have a big payoff later” thing has been increasing in films since the early 2000’s. A few years back when my wife watched Bullit for the first time she was surprised that the nurse who appears early in the film and brings McQueens’ character dinner (she asks him if he is the policeman that hasn’t had a chance to eat) doesn’t figure at all later in the film. She had a speaking part with the main character and more recent films had taught her that if this happens there’s some payoff later in the plot. Another big difference we felt compared to how the same sort of movie would be made today was how adult the characters were and how little over the top forced drama there seemed to be. It was a rewatch for me but I have to admit that I really only remembered the car chase from seeing it back in the 80’s and I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked the movie as a whole!
    “Non-Stop has the distinction of being one of the dumbest films I’ve had the dubious pleasure of watching for some time” I find this intriguing… I may have to watch it, so long as the stupidity is laughable instead of enraging.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      It goes with the demise of the professional character actor, I think (or perhaps vice-versa): we don’t get those people who built a career on small memorable roles any more.

      Biopics are particularly susceptible to that form of annoyance, but you’re right. It’s a form of bad writing that doesn’t seem to be recognised as such.

      I found the stupidity exasperating rather than funny, but YMMV.

      Like

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