‘King & Country’ on TCM

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Joseph Losey was riding high on the international acclaim of The Servant (1963), the director’s first collaboration with screenwriter Harold Pinter and second film with actor Dirk Bogarde, when Bogarde presented him with the script of a small television play called Hamp. Set in World War I, it’s a war drama with no battle scenes, the story of the court-martial of a young, uneducated working class soldier who, after three years in the trenches of World War I, simply walked away from the front lines in a hopeless attempt to walk home. Bogarde was very much interested in the project. He had served in World War II and recalled the trauma his father suffered after his service in World War I. He sent Losey to the Imperial War Museum and gave him a copy of “Covenant of Death,” a book of photographs and paintings of World War I. Some of those photos found their way into the film, framing the story with images of death and devastation on the muddy battlefields.

Losey handed the script to Evan Jones, who had previously scripted Eva (1962) and These Are the Damned (1963) for the director. With Losey’s blessing, Jones jettisoned the teleplay and returned to the source, and at his request added a kind of Greek chorus of soldiers to provide an additional perspective to the ordeal of the trenches. Bogarde, an author in his own right, also contributed to the script, rewriting some of his scenes and providing the background of experience, all of it uncredited on the film but acknowledged by Losey in later interviews.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Friday, July 18

The Prowler – The High Cost of Living a Lie: DVD of the Week

The Prowler (1951) (VCI) has been one of those acknowledged classics of film noir that many have had to take on faith for far too long.

Van Heflin as Webb Garwood casing the joint

All but absent from TV screenings since the days of early days of cable TV, never released on VHS and previously unavailable on DVD, The Prowler has been almost impossible to see, something of an orphan thanks to being independently produced outside the studio system by Sam Spiegel (using the credit S.P. Eagle) for his own company, Horizon Pictures. Prints were wearing out, original elements lost or destroyed and no studio was there to step in and preserve the film until the Film Noir foundation partnered with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore the film from the best materials they could find anywhere. The result is manna from noir heaven: a nearly stellar edition of film that, until a couple of years ago, was relegated to rare TV prints and even rarer repertory revivals of a sole, increasingly overworked circulating 35mm print.

Directed by Joseph Losey for Spiegel as he was also making The African Queen and scripted by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (behind front Hugo Butler), The Prowler (which was produced under the working title “The High Cost of Living”) is a classic of working class envy, restless resentment of the “bad breaks” that arrogance and assumed entitlement get you and the brutal opportunism of a former golden boy willing to do anything to get what he’s sure is due him.

Continue reading on Parallax View.

The Go-Between on TCM

The Go-Between, the last of three collaborations between director Joseph Losey and screenwriter Harold Pinter, plays on Turner Classic Movies  as part of a festival of Julie Christie features. I wrote an essay for the website to celebrate the screening.

Julie Christie

Based on the acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1970) is a coming-of-age tale with a devastating lesson. It takes place over a few summer weeks in a grand country manor at the turn of the century and focuses on the experiences of a twelve-year-old boy from a respectable but poor family; he becomes entangled in a secret romance played out under the cover of the mores and manners and hypocrisies of an aristocratic family that reverberates over the course of decades.

Dominic Guard made his feature debut as Leo, a sensitive and sincere boy who is not part of this family’s world, but merely a tourist in a culture where social standing defines every relationship. Leo is tolerated and at times even doted upon, like a favored pet, perhaps, and he’s smitten by Marian, the beautiful older sister who smiles favorably upon him. When he meets Ted Burgess, a nearby tenant farmer, he’s drafted into becoming the secret “postman” between the two. It’s a mere game for the boy, who is thrilled to be part of this grown-up secret, but a dangerous affair for Marian, who is to be engaged to a genuine aristocrat. Leo isn’t judgmental but his innocence and his uncomplicated sense of right and wrong and loyalty tear at his fragile emotional make-up when he becomes aware of what’s really going.

Read the complete feature here. The film, which is not on DVD, plays on TCM on Monday, August 2.

These Are the Damned films featured in “The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films”

[feel free to mentally add your own punctuation to the headline, but I kind of like it the way it reads]

The British film studio Hammer is legendary among horror fans for their lurid and lusty Technicolor revisions of the classic monster movies of the thirties, but they came the horror revival through a general focus on genre films, notably (but not limited to) thrillers, mysteries and science-fiction films. The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films (Sony) gathers six black-and-white thrillers made between 1958 and 1963, all distributed in the U.S. by (and some co-produced by) Columbia.

These Are the Damned

These Are the Damned (1963), Hammer’s answer to Village of the Damned, is the highest-profile film of the set, and the most anticipated. It’s a rare auteur piece (directed by American expatriate-turned-continental class act Joseph Losey), a long sought after science fiction item (Losey’s only true genre film outside of noir and crime cinema) and a Hammer rarity that was cut for American distribution and has been restored for its home video debut. And it’s a strange collision of exploitation elements, visual elegance and emotional coolness, a fascinating oddity with strange angles that don’t all fit neatly together but add up to a brilliant structure.

It begins as a different kind of genre film: in a cute little seaside vacation town in Britain, Teddy Boys on motorcycles led by the almost simian-looking King (Oliver Reed, with a dark glower and hulking menace) send out a gorgeous young bird (Shirley Anne Field) to attract the interest of an older American tourist (Macdonald Carey). Then they jump the gent for his cash, beating him brutally and dancing away while whistling their theme song (“Black Leather,” a weird quasi-rock chant that doesn’t sound like anything these chaps would adopt but does include almost nihilistic lyrics with nursery rhyme simplicity: “Black leather, black leather / Smash smash smash / Black leather, black leather / Crash crash crash”). “The age of senseless violence has caught up with us, too,” explains Bernard (Alexander Knox), a local authority figure who run a secret project nearby and has his own younger woman (Viveca Lindfors), an eccentric artist who sculpts eerie-looking statues in a small vacation home known as “The Birdhouse” perched, as it turns out, over the heart of the project. It’s all strangely complicated and almost arbitrary the way Carey’s ugly American Simon Wells sweeps Field’s frustrated sweater girl Joan out of King’s clutches, down the bluff from The Birdhouse and into a secret cave system where a small group of children of the atom are raised without human contact beyond video communications.

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