And we're off! Already some intrepid ladies and gentlemen have sallied forth with posts to kick off our "British Empire in Film" blogathon. Jolly good work, I say, wot?
Here's a quick round-up of the tasty Brit pics we've got lined up thus far:
Over at A Person in the Dark, Flickchick has a great look at the early talkie, The Letter (1929), starring ill-fated silent screen siren, Jeanne Eagels, (coincidentally, the first person to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination, for her work in this film).
And at Sometimes they go to Eleven, Giles serves up some fascinating historical detail in his erudite review of Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players (1977).
A Finnish blogger who goes by the nom de plume, "Graduated Cylinder," offers up an image-tastic look at the 1966 epic Khartoum, over at his fun site, Shameless Pile of Stuff. (There's a nice potted history of Sudan included as well.)
Caftan Woman has a typically excellent write-up on the Randolph Scott version of The Last of the Mohicans (1936) over at her blog.
And from across the pond in Ol' Blighty itself, Jerry Entract chimes in with a fine guest piece on Zoltan Korda's The Drum (1938). (We're proud to host Jerry's review here at The Stalking Moon.)
Please do us a favor and head over to the above sites to see what these fine folks have to say about these flicks, and don't be afraid to leave some comments, if so inclined. Thanks again to the above writers for joining Clayton and I on this first day of our inaugural blogathon!
Guest author Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). His main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. He enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.
I think the idea for a “British Empire Blogathon” is a great one and thank our hosts The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires for coming up with it.
I am sure the temptation for many would be to treat the subject as a sort of spoof but if I disappoint by treating it “straight”, I apologise (or do I?).
This was a BIG movie of its time, filmed by London Films which was owned by movie mogul Alexander Korda who adopted England as his home, both literally and spiritually. His films had “sweep” and expanse and this film was an early use of Technicolor which made all the difference when showing the red jackets of the English Army and the locations in which the film was (partly) shot.
I first saw this film some 40 years ago at London’s National Film Theatre, viewing it for the first time as intended – on the big screen. It made an impression certainly and when my new wife and I got our first cat it was named after the central character in the film, Carruthers!!
The background to the story is the turbulent north-west frontier of India during the height of the British Raj. As Captain Carruthers (Roger Livesey) arrives to take over command of the garrison with his new wife (Valerie Hobson) he befriends the young Prince Azim (Sabu) whose father is murdered by the prince’s wicked uncle Ghul (Raymond Massey). The prince eventually sounds the alarm that the garrison is about to be massacred by Ghul’s hordes, leading to an exciting and well-mounted pitched battle to close out the story.
Because the film was made in 1938 and by the pro-English Korda the story is very much supportive of the British Empire. It is from the novel by A.E.W. Mason (also “Four Feathers”) with a screenplay by Arthur Wimperis, Hugh Grey, Patrick Kirwan and Lajos Biro. There was involvement of five cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth, Christopher Challis, Georges Perinal, Osmond Borrowdale and Robert Krasker. Shooting took place in the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, regions of India including Kashmir and in the Welsh mountains in Gwynedd.
A huge cast was assembled with a number of names down the cast who would later become better known but the lead role was played very well by the under-rated classically-trained actor Roger Livesey.
The film is available on DVD from Amazon, among others, having been released in Region 1 format in 2010. It appears to have had 11 minutes shaved off the running time though (be warned).
For sweep and cinematic excellence of its day I would recommend this film to all with a little adventure in their soul!
Hullo, chaps! Just a friendly reminder from Clayton at Phantom Empires and yours truly, that the "British Empire in Film" Blogathon starts next Friday, November 14th, and runs through the following Monday, November 17th. We're excited to be hosting our very first blogathon and invite everyone to join in the fun with comments and feedback. Many fine bloggers will be doing their stiff-upper-lip part in the name of the Empire, wot wot.
You can find the list of contributors and the films they'll be covering here.
Please check in here for daily updates, and thanks again for all those who are participating!
By the early 70s, Hammer Studios was on its last legs, struggling to stay relevant in a rapidly changing cinematic landscape. 1973's The Exorcist was a game changer, and the writing was on the wall for the sort of old-fashioned Gothic chillers which had been Hammer's stock in trade. But the little British studio went down swinging, trying all sorts of things to stay current, adding rampant nudity and lesbian themes and much bloodier violence (in films such as The Vampire Lovers, Vampire Circus, etc.), mixing vampires with kung-fu (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires) or adding a swashbuckling spin (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter) - even trying to jump on the then-current vogue of "demonic possession" movies of the time (with To the Devil, a Daughter). Old Hammer stalwarts Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing stuck with the studio to the bitter end (Lee grudgingly). The pair do their best to enliven yet another spin on an old franchise - in this case, taking the studio's long-running and successful Van Helsing / Count Dracula cycle out of the past and into contemporary, swinging London, in Dracula A.D. 1972.
And the results are...well, interesting.
Dracula A.D. 1972 opens with a slam-bang prologue set in 1872, as Van Helsing (Cushing) and Dracula (Lee) duke it out on the top of a runaway carriage. The carriage crashes into a tree, mortally injuring Van Helsing, who spots Dracula partially impaled on the spokes of a broken carriage wheel, and finds just enough strength remaining to polish off the Count (whose body once again molders away to dust) before expiring. One of Dracula's acolytes (Christopher Neame) scoops up some of the ashen remains of his Master and buries it just outside the churchyard where Van Helsing is laid to rest.
Flashforward a hundred years, and the acolyte's descendant, now going by the name "Johnny Alucard" (Neame again), has ingratiated himself into the inner circle of a group of hip young things on the constant lookout for kicks. One of the gang happens to be Jessica Van Helsing (Stefanie Beacham), who lives with her grandfather, the most recent Prof. Van Helsing (Cushing again, of course.) Johnny is an altogether sinister sort of chap, yet Jessica and her friends are taken in, bored and thrill-seeking enough to go along with his scheme to stage a "Black Mass" at a nearby abandoned, desecrated churchyard - the same one, natch, where Dracula's remains are buried. Johnny wants Jessica as his victim, but she has just enough sense to not go along with his plans. Instead, the more daring Laura (Caroline Munro, in her first role for Hammer) eagerly offers herself as a sacrifice, clearly not really knowing what she's let herself in for. As the others watch on in horror, creepy Johnny slashes his wrist and drains his blood into a goblet filled with Dracula's ashes, then pours the contents over Laura's throat and chest. This finally freaks the rest of the gang out and they scatter in a panic, though Jessica retains a scrap of humanity in hesitating, wanting to help Laura, who seemingly is unable to move, already under the reanimated Dracula's spell.
That's right, Drac's back, coalescing out of a thick supernatural mist. "Master, I did it. I summoned you," mewls Johnny, to which Dracula coldly replies "It was my will." Spurning the fawning Johnny, Dracula spies his yummy prepared snack, Laura, and sinks his fangs in with relish. (Munro's expression of ecstasy as her blood is drained away is a nice touch). But the Count's got bigger fish to fry...his real plan in coming back to undead life is to wreak his revenge upon the house and descendants of Van Helsing, starting with turning comely granddaughter Jessica into his bride. With the bodies piling up, and the police - led by a refreshingly open-minded inspector from New Scotland Yard (Michael Coles) - at a loss as to how to catch the killers, it's up to the elderly, but still plenty badass, Van Helsing, Jr. to save his granddaughter from a fate worse than death, and send Dracula back to the grave where he belongs.
Dracula A.D. 1972 doesn't hold a very high reputation amongst Hammer horror aficionados, but I found it a total hoot. Bringing Dracula into the 1970s is an inspired choice, and while the story doesn't take full advantage of the situation, keeping the Count rooted to the derelict church for the whole movie, the resulting culture clash is great fun to watch. While Lee is underused, and likely bored behind the scenes, when he does appear, he brings all his chilling, imperious presence to bear. Christopher Neame is just creepy enough to keep the scenes with the kooky, flower-power gang of potheads palatable. The direction by Alan Gibson is lively and the cinematography, by Dick Bush, inventive, full of clever angles, copious use of mirrors and psychedelic colors. But the real heavy lifting is done by the always reliable Peter Cushing, who practically takes over the second half of the film. With his ascetic, borderline cadaverous features and ramrod straight bearing, Cushing is every inch the old school British hero, and shows a welcome humanity in his fondness, and eventual panicked concern, for his granddaughter. Cushing and Lee's final confrontation, while not ranking with the series' best, is still the high point of the film, as Dracula slaps Van Helsing around like a rag doll, while Van Helsing skewers the Count with a silver dagger, throws holy water in his face and eventually takes him down with a tiger trap lined with sharpened punjabi-style stakes
Aside from Lee's lack of screen time, and the script peculiarly not allowing him to run rampant throughout the city, the movie also suffers from a criminal wasting of the luscious Caroline Munro (who I've waxed rhapsodic about before here, here and, ahem, here.) I think screenwriter Don Houghton really missed a trick by having her dispatched so early, when the story is crying out for her to return as one of Dracula's undead brides. I can imagine Munro's Laura fanging her way seductively through the remaining males (and females) of the gang of spaced-out dorks who earlier abandoned her to her fate. This would have then presented a perfect opportunity for Beacham's Jessica to take up the family business of vampire slaying by sending her old gal pal to stake city. But sadly, the filmmakers couldn't see the obvious possibilities in their scenario and simply leave Laura a sad, purple-faced corpse, discovered under the rubble of the church. Jessica pretty much stays an indecisive, vacuous waste of space till the end, when she's held under a zombie-like spell until good ol' Grandpa Van Helsing saves the day. Beacham's used here mostly for her spectacular cleavage and little else, though her acting is good enough to show that she was capable of a much better role. Lastly, some of the "groovy" dialogue assigned to the "kids" (Beacham was 25 at the time of filming) is pretty dopey, full of "right on, man" cliches; Cushing and Coles get all the good lines.
While the above sounds like harsh criticism, I have to say I still really enjoyed the movie. It's well-paced, colorful stuff, is exceedingly handsome to look at, and, while not exactly scary, has an enjoyable, uneasy atmosphere, some good performances, and a nice knock-down, drag-out final fight between horror legends Lee and Cushing. It's hard for me not to appreciate all the crazy 70s fashions (one of the young turks in Jessica's circle of friends goes around wearing a monk's cassock, for some odd reason), the copious amounts of "Hammer Glamour" eye candy, and the nifty time capsule exterior footage of a London that's long vanished.
Frankly, I'll take this any day of the week over more highly-regarded Hammer schlock like The Vampire Lovers. Those looking for some fun and funky shocks for holiday viewing should find it an amusing Hallowe'en treat.
DVD Note: There are several DVD options for Dracula A.D. 1972. The copy used for review here is from the 4 Film Favorites: Draculas 2-disc set from Warner Home Video (which also includes Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Taste the Blood of Dracula). Even though it shares disc space with Taste the Blood of..., the transfer is pretty great, and you can't beat the price.
During last summer vacation, when I was back in the States, I indulged in my usual pasttime of going hog wild, buying more than my fair share of DVDs and Blu-Rays, including numerous TV-on-DVD releases. One of the most pleasant, "blind buy" discoveries from this trip was the late 50s TV western series Yancy Derringer, starring Jock Mahoney. The show's a real hoot, full of swift, violent action, brisk, skillful storytelling and lots of great guest stars. And Mahoney is terrific in the title role, a charming Southern gentleman with a derringer up one ruffled sleeve and another under his stylishly-worn hat.
It's the first update in a long while on my TV page, and I'd appreciate it mightily if you moseyed on over there to check it out (or you can get there by clicking on the "TV Reviews" image on the sidebar to the right.
Thanks, and see you at the gambling tables, pardner.
I say, old chaps! Pip pip, tally-ho and all that, wot?
That's right, it's time to announce the British Empire Blogathon, hosted by the mad genius who dreamed up the idea in the first place, Clayton at Phantom Empires, and yours truly. We thought it was high time we sally forth into the world of blogathons with one of our own, and we'd like to invite like-minded fellow bloggers to join in the fun.
We love these movies, from beloved classics like Gunga Din, Zulu, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Kim, to less well-known titles like North West Frontier, Bhowani Junction, and King of the Khyber Rifles. We know we're not alone in our regard for these stories of high adventure and stiff-upper-lip heroism.
There are only a few ground rules we ask contributors to follow:
The event is scheduled for November 14 - 17. If you would like to submit an entry (or more! Don't be shy), please let us know by leaving a comment on this post below, or the similar announcement here at Phantom Empires. You can also feel free to use our contact forms here (for Clayton) or here (for me).
Please include the title and link to your blog, contact information and of course the title of the film(s) you'd like to cover. We also ask that you include a link to this post and Clayton's in your review, and to use one of the event banners included in this post on your website to help promote the blogathon.
We think this event will prove a jolly good time. Thank you and we look forward to your posts!
Speakeasy - The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Movies Silently - The Four Feathers (the 1929 and 1939 versions)
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear - Carry On...Up the Khyber (1968)
Silver Screenings - The Life and Death of Col. Blimp (1943)
Tipping My Fedora - The Letter (1940)
Mike's Take on the Movies - Royal Flash (1975)
Tales of the Easily Distracted - Gunga Din (1939)
Girls Do Film - The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)
A Person in the Dark - The Letter (1929)
Once Upon a Screen - The Little Princess (1917)
Critica Retro - The Rains Came (1939)
Silver Scenes - Kim (1950) and Flame Over India (1959)
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier - Black Narcissus (1947)
Caftan Woman - The Last of the Mohicans (1936)
Mildred's Fatburgers - Zulu (1964)
Kevin's Movie Corner - The Sun Never Sets (1939)
Sometimes they go to Eleven - The Chess Players (1977) and Breaker Morant (1980)
Moon in Gemini - Young Winston (1972)
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings - King of the Khyber Rifles (1953)
Classic Movie Hub - Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
History on Film - The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Shameless Pile of Stuff - Khartoum (1966)
Random Pictures - The Heart of the Matter (1953)
Phantom Empires - Three Sergeants of Bengal (1964)
The Stalking Moon (guest post by Jerry Entract) - The Drum (1938)
The Stalking Moon - The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
(click photos to enlarge)
Fans of all sorts have a love / hate affair with lists. Film buffs are no different. Some find them limiting or a waste of time; others find them diverting fun, a way to relate to the movies they love. I fall into the latter camp, and enjoy making various lists from time to time. Which brings me to the present post. Regular readers of this blog have likely gleaned an idea of my general taste in movies over the past two years plus that I've been publishing content here...but I thought it was about time to make some sort of claim on those titles that have fought their way into my personal Top Twenty-Five list. Some of these I've covered here already in greater depth, some not. But these 25 films have proven time and again to be the ones I go back to rewatch and enjoy more than any others. The list could easily extend to another twenty (or forty, or fifty...you get the idea), I'm already stretching the concept far enough as it is.
Desert Island Discs is a long running (since 1942) BBC Four radio program, in which the host interviews a famous or distinguished guest and asks them to choose 8 songs or pieces of music, one book (they are automatically given the complete works of Shakespeare, as well as the Bible or other similar religious or philosophical work) and one luxury item they would take with them if they were a castaway on the proverbial desert island. The guests then discuss their life, career and reasons for each of their choices.
So, with a slight tweaking of the original program's rules (25 instead of 8 titles), here is my own personal Desert Island Discs style list (the discs here being, of course, DVDs or Blu-Rays). I'll still keep the "one book" and "luxury item" rules. In this case, the one book would likely be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, though if I could cheat the list a bit to include a book series, I'd probably swap the Rings out for the complete 21-novel Aubrey-Maturin naval saga by Patrick O'Brien (I'd certainly find more useful "island survival" info in the O'Brien books.) And the luxury item? Harder to decide. Probably a toss-up between a fat stash of Hershey's chocolate bars, or a comfy chair in which to lounge whilst watching these wonderful movies.
Please note, I make no claim for this list as "Best or Greatest movies of all time," like the infamous Sight and Sound Magazine poll that comes out periodically. These are strictly movies I adore, that feed and nurture my soul, and that would provide strength, joy and succor during my lonely exile on this imaginary island. Understandably, there are dozens of titles that sorely grieve me to leave off this list, and that, on a given day, might conceivably trade places with one of the movies below. But, by and large, these are the cream of the crop as far as I'm concerned. Titles are listed in no particular ranking order - though if anyone asks, I usually answer Casablanca as my favorite film. I mean, really - does it get any better than that?
Please feel free to play along if so inclined, and include your own list in the comments below.
It's a Wonderful Life
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Quiet Man
To Have and Have Not
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The Big Country
The Magnificent Seven
The Great Escape
The Best Year's of Our Lives
The Three Musketeers (1973 version)
The Thin Man
Only Angels Have Wings
The Adventures of Robin Hood
For a Few Dollars More
Planet of the Apes
Just a few of my all-time favorite movies.
"A majority of the SF films of 1969-1979 were downbeat and even gloomy, and even in the adventure films their heroes were hard-pressed just to survive, let alone survive cheerfully."
Early in 2013, I indulged in a little movie buff list making, briefly discussing what I thought were the 10 best science fiction films of the 1960s. Somewhat to my surprise, that piece has proven to be pretty much the biggest hit-grabber on this blog. So it seems a no-brainer to roll right on to the next decade. With the decline of the old-school studio system and the rise of the new jack, maverick independent directors, intent on stripped-down realism and politically-minded, morally complex scripts, the early 1970s ushered in a sort of second "Golden Age" of movie making. This adventurous focus spread to all genres, and it could be argued that more serious, thought-provoking, idea-based science fiction films were released in that short span of 10 years than in all the 30-plus years before or since. Not everything you'll find on the below list can be said to be groundbreaking in comparison to the rich world of written SF, but certainly, when it comes to cinematic sci-fi, the 70s were a fertile ground indeed. Coming hot on the heels of several turbulent years of political unrest and growing paranoia and distrust of the government, 70s sci-fi reflected this unease and pessimism, with a string of films that combined visual flair with a bleak, dystopian power. These films are even more remarkable from the vantage point of today, when Hollywood studios seem straitjacketed in "play it safe" mode, churning out blockbuster after blockbuster full of dazzling F/X but generally devoid of originality or deep thought.
A while back, Brian at the lively Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog was kind enough to ask me to contribute a post for a series of pieces on "Underrated Mystery / Detective" movies. Being a big mystery and detective fan, in both book and movie form, that topic got my ears to perk up, and so I happily complied. You can find my list, with small capsule write-ups for each film, over here. Please check it out when you have the time, and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments there. While you're visiting, have a gander at the other guest posts from fellow bloggers...some great stuff gets mentioned, lots of good, lesser-known titles to add to the "must watch" pile. Brian also frequently updates his site with great reviews of new DVD and Blu-Ray releases from Warner Archives, Twilight Time and more. Definitely worth taking a look.
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” - Mark Twain.
I'm still enough of a newbie to this whole "dad" thing that I remain somewhat bemused when Father's Day rolls around, and I belatedly realize that I now belong to the group being celebrated. My son, Kenji, is now a few months shy of his second birthday, and I'm slowly coming around to the fact that, yep, no doubt about it, I'm a dad.
When it comes to role models for being a good father, I don't have to look any further than real life, starting with my own wonderful dad, Bruce (see my brief tribute to him from last year here). I also have a number of friends who seem to have this dad scene down pat, though I have it on good authority (i.e., them) that it's a lot easier said than done. I've learned a lot from these guys over the years, and am trying my best to follow their lead.
But being a dyed-in-the-wool movie and TV geek, I also occasionally find myself taking comfort and inspiration from the various fathers that have graced the silver screen through the years.
Probably the fictional dads that leap to most people's minds right off the bat hail mostly from the small screen, a plethora of all types, from the iconic "best dad EVER" types like Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, and Bill Bixby's Tom Corbett on The Courtship of Eddie's Father; to the loving yet sarcastic grouches who can't wait till the kids move out, like Bill Huxtable on The Cosby Show; to the lovable, well-meaning dolts (a modern TV specialty), like Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) on Modern Family, or, heaven forbid, the king of all idiot dads, Homer Simpson.
Yes, television has got the dad game covered, fitting for a medium meant to be invited nightly into our homes, like an additional member of the family. But of course the movies are no slouch in the dad department, either. Movie protagonists, generally speaking, tend to be single and unencumbered by familial responsibilities - the better to make some kind of love connection through the course of the story, often with an understanding that marital bliss - and, by extension, parenthood - would be the likely outcome after the final clinch and fade-out. This all makes perfect sense, dramatically speaking, but means that fathers are more often sidelined as supporting characters, usually having to content themselves with exerting an influence over our heroes and heroines, for good or ill.
There have been all kinds of memorable movie fathers, covering the spectrum of human experience, from the noble (Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird); to the badass, take-no-prisoners type (Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor, Liam Neeson in Taken); to the absentee, estranged father trying to reconnect with their kids (Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard, etc.); to the intimidating power brokers (Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in The Godfather); to the flat-out crazy and deranged (Donald Pleasence as nasty "white trash" Preacher Quint in Will Penny). These are just a few examples, the tip of a very large iceberg, which also includes all manner of deadbeat fathers, abusive fathers, surrogate fathers, father figures, and just plain old Fathers (like Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan in Boy's Town).
Many of the above types loom large in the imagination. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to stick to actual fathers, doing their level best, no matter the circumstances or how brief their appearance when it comes to running time, to leave a lasting impact on their "movie" kids, and, frequently, the viewer. Here, in no particular order than off the top of my head, are a few cinematic "class act" dads:
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
Blogs of Note
Stuart Galbraith IV's World Cinema Paradise
Movie Morlocks (TCM's Classic Movie Blog)
50 Westerns from the 50s
Riding the High Country
Tipping My Fedora
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Classic TV and Film Cafe
Just a Cineast
She Blogged By Night
Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema
Out of the Past -
A Classic Film Blog
Pretty Sinister Books
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
In So Many Words...
Greenbriar Picture Shows
My Love of Old Hollywood
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Another Old Movie Blog
Lasso the Movies
Kevin's Movie Corner
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier
Carole & Co.
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Vienna's Classic Hollywood
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
ClassicBecky's Brain Food
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