Sunday, 25 March 2012

The International Hayley Mills Festival...

... isn't a real thing, sadly, so I've been hosting one in my room. We (I) didn't show her finest film, Whistle Down the Wind (#19 in the performances list), #45 in the all-time films list), as I've seen it quite a lot lately. If you're disappointed by that (not sure why you would be), you can watch this amazing video. Hayley's not actually in that clip, but it does feature perhaps the finest line of dialogue ever uttered on screen.

I just really like Hayley Mills. She's an actress of rare gifts, and was one of the greatest child stars of all time. Here's the round-up:


Tiger Bay (J. Lee Thompson, 1959) – A mischievous, tomboyish loner (Hayley Mills) finds kinship with the murderer who takes her hostage (Horst Buccholz) in this unusual, brilliantly-photographed drama, dominated by Mills' staggering debut turn. Johnny Mills (her real-life dad) also shines, as the cop who would quite like her to stop lying. With a rich, intelligent screenplay, flavourful semi-documentary exteriors shot on location around Cardiff (and Bristol Harbour) and a wealth of vivid, painterly set-pieces – including a superb face-to-face in a darkened church attic – it’s suspenseful, funny and extremely affecting. (4)

Here's an interesting reminiscence from someone who was aboard the big ship during filming.



The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961) – I didn’t cry four times during The Parent Trap, shut up. You cried four times during The Parent Trap. This is a largely wonderful, seriously sentimental family comedy about twins Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills, separated in infancy, who meet by chance at a summer camp and scheme to bring their estranged parents Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara back together. The special effects are decent (well, except for the bit where Pretend Hayley has to hold an enormous sleeping mat next to her head), the supporting cast of Charlie Ruggles, Una Merkel and Leo G. Carroll is absolutely first-rate and Hayley is just a joy. Only downsides: it runs out of steam with 20 minutes to go, and the ‘Let's Get Together’ song is faddy rubbish. (3.5) I really like the remake as well.



Summer Magic (James Neilson, 1963)
– This Disneyfied slice of Americana shouldn’t really work. For a start, there’s no real story to speak of, beyond a rough paraphrasing of The Railway Children, minus the trains. That’s not to say there aren’t bits of plot, but they’re gathered together in clusters, to be fought with for a couple of minutes every half-hour or so. A family moves to a new yellow home in the country, does it up nicely and has a few minor adventures – some of them romantic – but there’s always the chance that the chap who really owns the house will come and reclaim it, only we know that he won’t because it’s a Disney film. There are some songs by the Sherman Brothers, the quickest, weirdest volte face by a character in cinema history, and a confusing message about how girls should pretend to be coquettish and stupid if they want people to like them. Show your daughter this and Grease and they will be expelled, pregnant or dead within a week. There’s also the problem of Dorothy McGuire. The film features three of my favourite, disparate actresses: the wonderfully gifted child star Hayley Mills, sassy, ironic ‘30s leading lady Una Merkel, and McGuire – certainly the most sensitive American screen actress of her generation, and probably the best. It’s rare you happen upon a performance as good, complex or multi-layered as her harsh, loving, old-before-her-time mother in Elia Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Or her astonishing turn as a mute targeted by a murderer in A Spiral Staircase (soundless screaming - wtf?!). Or, indeed, her (not actually very) ugly duckling transformed by love in An Enchanted Cottage. She made those three films in a single year. But she may as well not be in Summer Magic, as she doesn’t actually bother to do any acting. She has lines. And potentially poignant scenes. But she barely moves her (suspiciously?) unlined face, which is fixed in a supposedly heartening ‘motherly’ smile throughout. It makes her look like a chipmunk in an apron.

For all that, though, I rather like the film. It is a mess, but its various elements are all pleasant in themselves – and it kept me entertained and cheery across a couple of hours. Mills is very good as a teenager graduating from tall-tale-telling to adulthood and the possibility of lurve, and she has three particularly special moments. The first is one of those passages in the John Ford manner, with soft backing music (this time played on-screen by Burl Ives) and a troubled character just looking on as the camera fixes on them. It’s heartbreaking, and beautifully played. The others occur after her row with massive bitch Deborah Walley, where Mills spills the shameful beans (the worst kind of beans) about Walley’s past. “Oh Julia, I’m-I’m sorry, I...” she says desperately, before chasing her nemesis into the other room. There, her mum demands an explanation. “Oh mother, you know what I said,” says Mills forlornly. And it's desperately moving. I did that thing where you very-almost cry, but don't quite. It’s at this point that Walley turns from the antichrist into an angel, transformed by the power of love and poor screenwriting. The supporting cast is interesting. Unexpectedly, Burl Ives is the pick of the bunch as a tubby optimist with a pleasant singing voice. His popular children’s song ‘Ugly Bug Ball’ is on the soundtrack, though my favourite numbers were ‘On the Front Porch’ (complete with Mills’s sad staring) and ‘Flitterin’’, sung by the family before their move to the country. Una Merkel is virtually unrecognisable – even from the previous decade – as Ives’s pessimistic wife, with a great big head, and a phony (?) 60-a-day growl that obscures her familiar and delightful squeak. Of the other kids, Michael J. Pollard (who gave Michael J. Fox his phony ‘J’) is good and Jimmy Mathers is cute, though Eddie Hodges can’t really act.

Summer Magic is a strange movie. A remake of a 1938 RKO film, based on a 1917 play, based on a book, what fragments of plot it retains also seem to have found their way into the second Nanny McPhee outing (though the use of the word "poo" that I so much enjoyed in that film isn't present here). There’s no dramatic impetus, Disney’s emotional heavyhandedness detracts from the picture's power and the most exciting name on the cast-list doesn’t turn up. But I still like it a great deal: for the fun numbers, the consistent entertainment value, and Mills’s commanding performance, which touches true brilliance in a trio of moments. (3)



That Darn Cat! (Robert Stevenson, 1965) - An FBI agent (Dean Jones) has to track a cat on its nightly prowls, after its owner (the lovely Hayley Mills) claims the puss can lead them to the gruesome twosome behind a bank job and kidnapping. But get this - the Fed is allergic to cats, and keeps sneezing! And people keep falling over. This witless, cartoonish Disney romp - full of garish visuals and tiresome mugging, and wasting a promising cast that includes old-timers Elsa Lanchester and William Demarest (his hair a curious shade of orange) - is the least of Hayley's vehicles for The Evil Mouse, but just about worth it for her appealing, amusing performance. It's not as bad as the remake, anyway. (2)



The Family Way (Roy Boulting, 1966) is like Sons and Lovers re-imagined as a breezy sex comedy, as arty Hywel Bennett – living in the shadow of his gruff father (Johnny Mills) – somehow fails to consummate his marriage with the 20-year-old Hayley Mills. This being the north in the 1960s, soon housewives in headscarves start gossiping, which doesn’t help Bennett’s mood – or his mojo. Hayley is lovely in her first adult role, while her pops is simply exceptional as a boozy, sad blowhard who understands nothing, not even the disappearance of his best friend some 30 years ago. His rapport with screen wife Marjorie Rhodes strikes just the right balance of tough and tender. The film has a stagy three-act structure, but it’s opened up nicely with some shots of the principals wandering around Bolton, there are a few big laughs and the whole thing builds to a particularly satisfying, erm, climax. (3)

... so there you have it. An offbeat British masterpiece, three Disney vehicles and a knockout sex comedy. And because you've been very good this year, here's a bonus write-up of a certified Hayley Mills classic, from the archive:


Pollyanna (David Swift, 1960) is an enchanting family film based on an enduringly popular novel. The last Disney production overseen by Walt, it takes numerous liberties with the source – and even makes up an Abraham Lincoln quote to give Pollyanna’s musings some gravitas – but it’s utterly charming. The “glad girl” of the title (Hayley Mills) moves in with her aunt, uptight town matriarch Jane Wyman, and her boundless optimism begins to work its magic on Wyman, hypochondriac Agnes Moorhead, embittered loner Adolphe Menjou and intolerant, weak-minded priest Karl Malden. Disney called off the search for his Pollyanna after seeing Mills in Tiger Bay, while her father (celebrated British screen star Johnny) famously sparked her into life with on-set coaching. Her natural performance, and pinpoint characterisations from the on-form veterans, create many lovely vignettes in this episodic, excellent movie. Lovely cinematography too. (4)

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Prestige, Élodie Bouchez, and RKO's breeding ground - Reviews #105

In the latest reviews round-up, I swear twice (sorry), get swept away by a modern French masterpiece and wander the streets of London clutching a naked cut-out of Jane Asher. Oh no, that wasn't me, that was John Moulder Brown.

La vie rêvée des anges (Erick Zonca, 1998) aka The Dreamlife of Angels – Profound, poignant film about the friendship that develops – and then unravels – between two young women who meet at a factory in Lille. Ila (Élodie Bouchez) is friendly, compassionate and happy to ask for help; self-centred Maria (Natacha Régnier) throws her pride and practicality to the wind as she embarks on a self-destructive affair with an utter shit. A wise, insightful and immersive study of human relationships, and the nature of friendship, with exceptional performances from the two leads – especially the big-eyed, expressive Bouchez. This one’s going right to the top of the 2012 list. (4)


Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970) is a fascinating, virtuosic study of romantic and sexual obsession set around a London bath house gone entirely to seed. John Moulder Brown plays a 15-year-old school leaver who finds work there and becomes besotted with the free-and-easy redhead (Jane Asher) who shares his duties. Their innocent flirtations escalate until he's chasing her around the London Underground with a monochrome cut-out of her naked body, shouting: "Is this you?!" It begins as a playful, absurdist and almost bawdy comedy - the only film I've seen that shares the feel of My Own Private Idaho, as Diana Dors shouts about George Best whilst rubbing a teenager's head against her boobs - then becomes darker and odder by the minute, as Skolimowski brings an outsider's eye, and an Eastern European sensibility, to bear on the complex, mutating material, on its way to the only ending these films ever have. Moulder Brown's accent is a pity - as with A Kid for Two Farthings, cockernee would have been preferable to estuary - but Asher's pitch-perfect performance, the inventive, well-paced narrative and Skolimowski's vivid visual sense, tying the intro to the ending with intelligent glee, make it a cast-iron classic. (4)


The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
- Wow. That was great: one long magic trick, in which turn-of-the-18th-century magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman indulge in an obsessive rivalry, their secrets revealed through a series of delicious, rug-pulling twists. Two of Nolan's most highly-praised films - The Dark Knight and Memento - leave me a little cold (he probably doesn't care), but this one's a wow: somehow sheer escapism, despite a narrative that takes in existential despair, suicide and death-by-drowning. Like Nolan's later Inception, his non-linear structure juggles three stories (or in this case, three time-frames), as Bale-reads-about-Jackman-reading-about-Bale's-life. Phew. There's the odd bad line ("You deserve each other"? Really?) or slip into domestic melodrama, and the film suffers from a serious case of Scarlett Johansson, but it's just a ripping good ride, with a spectacular denouement that made my brain ache. Someone is probably going to tell me that the pay-off doesn't make sense, but I don't care. So nerr. (4)


The Moon Is Blue (Otto Preminger, 1953) - Stagy, unusually frank sex comedy - written by playwright and '30s character actor Hugh Herbert of the "woo hoo!" catchphrase - about a professional virgin (Maggie McNamara), the newly-free bachelor (William Holden) who picks her up up the Empire State Building, and the caddish elder gent (David Niven) who later muscles in. It starts off very slowly - with a deeply boring wordless opening - but picks up greatly for a fresh, funny second half that recalls Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch's most underrated comedy), and is dominated by Niven's hilariously immoral characterisation. He really was a sensational light comedian - right up there with Cary Grant and William Powell. Wordy farce wasn't Holden's forte, but he's OK, while McNamara equips herself well - once you get used to the fact that she looks and sounds like the five-year-old Margaret O'Brien. Dated, sure, but for all its flaws, a fun way to spend an evening. (3)


The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller, 2004) - This functional portrait of a beaten-down loser who finally snaps - and proceeds to mount the most hilariously shit assassination attempt of all time - owes no small debt to Taxi Driver and the classic Edward Dmytryk B-movie The Sniper. But it's just not in the same league. Sean Penn, surely the most overrated person in the entire world, isn't "acting" as much as usual - a welcome relief - but despite that atypically nuanced performance, a reasonable, unsensationalised script and Mueller's sporadically intelligent handling, it's all been done a whole lot better before. (2.5)


Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) - Bizarrely lacklustre Tarantino film about various pockets of resistance fighters and secret agents planning to off the Nazi brass during a film premiere. It's watchable throughout and there's a taut, tense, tight-as-a-drum suspense sequence set in a bar - as a Gestapo officer begins to suspect undercover British soldier Michael Fassbender isn't all he seems - but the film is largely lacking the excitement and raw energy one usually associates with the director, or at least used to. Christoph Waltz is exceptional as a cultured Jew-hunter, but he's also the only character Tarantino bothers to flesh out, a mystifying decision in a film that bills itself as a Jewish revenge fantasy. When one considers the car-wreck that was Death Proof - comfortably one of the worst 10 films I have ever seen - you can view this as something of a return-to-form but, compared to Reservoir Dogs, it lacks distinctiveness, quality and heart. (2.5)


The Ploughman’s Lunch (Richard Eyre, 1983) – Incredibly cynical satire, written by Ian McEwan, about a BBC radio producer (Jonathan Pryce) and his relationships with fellow right-wing media types (including camp, mulleted Tim Curry), his working class parents and a Socialist historian. It’s more a series of polemics on British history and Thatcherite Britain than it is a coherent drama, which means that while individual scenes are often striking and interesting, the overall effect is rather muted. I also found it quite hard work spending 100 minutes in the company of such a hateful human being, so bereft of redeeming qualities, as Pryce’s selfish, duplicitous journo, even in the name of satire. I do get quite turned on by newsreels of the Suez Crisis, though, so we have that in common. (2.5)


The Falcon in San Francisco (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945)
– This was the eighth of Tom Conway’s 10 outings as the eponymous crime-solver and adventurer, a role he took over from his real-life brother, George Sanders, in 1942. The series is notable for that trivia point, and as a breeding and dumping ground for studio RKO. The Falcon in Mexico is said to contain footage shot by Orson Welles for his never-completed film It’s All True. Music that features prominently in Falcon films turns up in other RKO pictures: San Francisco uses 'My Shining Hour' from the Fred Astaire musical The Sky's the Limit as background music, while the sumptuous theme for the classic noir Out of the Past was featured as an on-screen nightclub number in The Falcon Takes Over. That same film was the first adapted from Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, a huge hit for the studio two years later when it was filmed more faithfully as Murder, My Sweet. The series also includes bit parts for stars on the rise and on the skids. Alibi features up-and-coming Lawrence Tierney (later Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs) and future Out of the Past femme fatale Jane Greer - who later fell out of favour with Howard Hughes by not boffing him - while that idiot who brought King Kong to New York, Robert Armstrong, turns up in San Francisco 12 years on. People like Allen Jenkins, Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards (the voice of Jiminy Cricket), Edward Brophy (the voice of Timothy the Mouse), Esther Howard, near-legendary character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. (the gunsel from The Maltese Falcon), Barbara Hale and Fox's favourite "other woman", Lynn Bari, appear in other outings.

Two key directors of the ‘40s and ‘50s also got their big break in Falcons: Edward Dmytryk – the noir specialist and notorious Hollywood Ten-ner who gave series highpoint Strikes Back such a punchy style – and Joseph H. Lewis, the B-movie legend who went on to make Gun Crazy and The Big Combo. Lewis isn’t given much of a free rein with the low-budget San Francisco, but he does contribute one fantastic little set-piece, in which Conway wakes up from being slugged, sees various blurry figures hoving into view, gets smacked around a bit and then falls to the floor, photographed artfully through a wooden chair – recalling Lewis’s predilection for shooting-action-through-inanimate-objects that got him the nickname “Wagon Wheel Joe” in his Western days. Otherwise, it’s a pretty pedestrian affair by the series’ standards, pleasant enough, but with a thin, somewhat unconvincing story and a predictable reveal, though if you want to see Edward Brophy being insulted by a lot of women, this is definitely the film for you. It was Conway’s last Falcon based on an original story; the final pair were remakes of the first two Sanders films. (2.5), just about.


The Long Gray Line (John Ford, 1959) - One of Ford's worst films, a long, shapeless biopic of West Point trainer Marty Mahan (Tyrone Power) that's something like his version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It's seriously light on plot, beginning with tons of broad, witless comedy, before segueing into an hour of overwraught sentimentality, with no coherent viewpoint or - indeed - any point at all. There are some moving moments along the way, especially the scenes set around Mahan's son's birth, and Maureen O'Hara is very good in support, but it's one of the director's rare misfires. (2)

See also: Ford's 1956 Western, The Searchers, isn't half bad, though...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ellen Page, The Hour and Howard Hughes's ode to cleavage - Reviews #104

... plus Edward Brophy's moment in the sun, Gene Kelly shooting Hitler, and Doris Day and Rock Hudson riding again. Sort of.

Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005)
- Sensational (in both senses of the word) black-comedy-turned-revenge-fantasy about a boyish, 14-year-old psychopath (Ellen Page) holding a suspected paedophile hostage in his flat, and threatening to cut off his balls. Page is jaw-dropping in her star-making turn, Patrick Wilson fine as her quivering quarry, this talky two-hander avoiding staginess through stunning acting, digital effects that shadow its changing moods, and kinetic bursts of frantic action. Troubling, confrontational and throbbing with anger, it's tabloidy in the Sam Fuller fashion, and oddly appealing in its self-conscious, modish references to MP3s, Amazon reviews and Goldfrapp, though the film's deliciously wry sense of humour evaporates in a po-faced, conventional, disappointing final 15. It's still the best new watch of the year, if only for its, err, balls. (4)


Larceny, Inc. (Lloyd Bacon, 1942) – Very funny little Warner crime comedy about a petty criminal with the gift-of-the-gab (Edward G. Robinson) who gets out of the clink and starts plotting a heist. With his idiotic goons, Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy, he takes over the luggage store next door to a bank – planning to tunnel in – but finds his plans, and his life, plagued by a moralising adopted daughter (Jane Wyman), an overenthusiastic salesman (Jack Carson) and an entire street-full of fellow traders who think he’s wonderful. The climactic swing towards melodrama is perhaps a bit too strong, and a few of Robinson’s one-liners are more nasty than amusing, but for the most part this is absolutely first-rate, with the star on top form, a particularly funny performance from Brophy – the scene where he’s talked into buying masses of stock by Carson is brilliant – and a supporting cast littered with familiar faces, from Anthony Quinn to Harry Davenport, John Qualen, Charles Arnt, Harry Hayden, Grant Mitchell, Chester Clute, Joe Downing and Jackie Gleason, in an early role as a nosey soda jerk. (3.5)


Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010) – Entertaining documentary about the West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and ‘80s, with snippets of dazzling footage, informative talking-head interviews and the historical context needed to make sense of the action’s greater significance. (Incidentally, as he says he doesn’t understand the difference, I will be happy to explain to Colin Croft the difference between playing in an unsanctioned triangular series in Australia, and taking a pay cheque to play in Apartheid-era South Africa.) The film is true to its story by creating an interesting, flavourful atmosphere rife with the culture of the islands, but does this by enlisting the help of an annoying, weed-addled Wailer who won’t shut up, a sometimes pretentious broadcaster with a big beard, and some enthusiastic but actually quite terrible cricket-themed music, played on-screen. Including more film of the actual matches and scoring those with the songs would surely have made better use of the slender running time, since sequences like the montage of Malcolm Marshall destroying the England team during the blackwash of 1984 are simply exhilarating. Ultimately it’s merely a good film about a truly fascinating subject. (3)


Thousands Cheer (George Sidney, 1943) was MGM’s entry in the ‘all-star WWII flagwaver’ stakes, the spirited everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sub-genre that produced a couple of musical-comedy classics – Warner’s Thank Your Lucky Stars and Paramount’s Star Spangled Rhythm – and a bunch of half-baked but enjoyable films like Hollywood Canteen (Warner again), Stage Door Canteen (RKO) and Follow the Boys (Universal). The story has Kathryn Grayson staying with her colonel father and being romanced by soldier – and former aerialist! – Gene Kelly, who needs to learn the value of discipline if he’s going to make something of himself. As you might expect, Grayson puts on a show to raise morale, resulting in 40 minutes of wall-to-wall sketches and songs featuring MGM’s finest, and compèred by Mickey Rooney. The highlights of that star-fest are Lena Horne’s seductive ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, Eleanor Powell doing a funky tap in front of a badly back-projected curtain, Judy making the most of a daft song featuring Jose Iturbi on boogie-woogie piano, and Rooney’s impressions of Gable and Lionel Barrymore. But they’re arguably upstaged by two earlier numbers from the film’s leads: Kelly’s solo dance with a mop to ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ (which includes him shooting Hitler) and Grayson’s simply lovely ‘Daybreak’ – an absolute gem. Grayson, whose mentor Joe Pasternak produced the film, is terribly affecting and has a marvellous voice, lifting the often humdrum, silly material at every turn. Thousands Cheer isn’t another delight in the Thank Your Lucky Stars mould, but it’s still good fun, particularly for inveterate star-gazers. (And I haven’t even mentioned Frank Morgan’s skit about an amorous barber. Or the Mexican ballet. Or Margaret O’Brien demanding some ice-cream.) (2.5)

See also: For a brief history of all-star Hollywood films, clicky on here.


The Tall Stranger (Thomas Carr, 1957) - Typically enjoyable Joel McCrea B-Western, with our wise, tanned, greying hero (no I don't fancy him, you're getting me confused with Maureen Stapleton) caught - as is customary - between a shouty land-owner, unscrupulous gunmen and a wagon train full of women, children and incredibly stupid men. The scene where the crowd is repeatedly won over by whomever happens to be speaking is hysterically funny. Unintentionally, of course. The plot is cleverly drawn, though it shows its hand too early, but the main draw is McCrea, asked to carry a film once more, and transforming every hack line into a thing of naturalistic brilliance. Virginia Mayo, regarded as one of the great beauties of the Golden Age, is OK as a love interest with an uninteresting back-story, while Barry Kelley manages to be both imposing and clunky as the blustering land baron. The action scenes are either flat or confusing, though the exuberance of the stuntmen in the climactic set-piece makes up for the fact that it's a bit difficult to work out exactly what's going on. At least Hans Salter's score hits the target. That and McCrea's performance, a masterclass in turning oatery into gold. (2.5)


Down with Love (Peyton Reed, 2003) gets a bit of a raw deal. It’s an enthusiastic tribute to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies of the ‘50s and ‘60s – which comprised two agreeably fluffy romances and an iffy black comedy – with a decent feel for the era, incorporating pop culture staples like What’s My Line and Ed Sullivan, and a very funny supporting performance from David Hyde-Pierce in the Tony Randall role. Curiously, Randall himself also appears, though in a disastrously underwritten part. The film isn’t terribly sophisticated, with its innuendo quickly wearing, while the attempt to inject some feminism into the proceedings near the end just makes everything very confusing, but it’s still quite a fun watch. Renee Zellweger – pouting as usual as if her life depended on it – is alternately impressive and annoying in the Doris role; Ewan McGregor makes a reasonable Rock-ish cad. I wish Thelma Ritter and Allen Jenkins were still around. (2.5)


Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988) - A doggedly mediocre baseball comedy-drama - set in the minor leagues and somewhat pleased with itself - about a saucy older woman (Susan Sarandon) who chooses a dim-witted, big-time-bound pitcher (Tim Robbins) as that season's project, but is drawn to the wise old catcher (Kevin Costner) enjoying one last season. Robbins is introduced as little more than a cartoon - perhaps appropriate, since he looks just like a cartoon - so when we're asked to care about him, we can't. Costner, meanwhile, is strangely wooden, while I'm not even sure what the point of Sarandon is. Is she ever good? (Well, I suppose there was Atlantic City.) Is there anyone who fancies her aside from Hollywood casting directors? The film is fairly entertaining, at least until the soft-core fumblings of its final 20, and I particularly liked the small comic scene where Robbins sings the wrong words to 'Try a Little Tenderness', but compared to A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out and especially Field of Dreams, it's strictly minor league. (2.5)


The French Line (Lloyd Bacon, 1953)
– Howard Hughes’s ode to cleavage has Jane Russell as an oil millionairess who goes incognito to find her ideal man – and ends up with wrinkly Gilbert Roland. Every woman in the film – though especially Russell – is forever arching their back, bending down to pick something up, or getting out of a chair, the camera lasciviously gawping down their top. It was originally in 3D. I’m surprised they didn’t have someone’s eyes out. The plotting is terrible, the acting little better and the songs largely forgettable, though the number pairing Russell and Mary McMarty, 'Any Gal From Texas', is a lot of fun if you can stomach the amateurish dancing. Roland also has a pleasant voice and his Comment Allez Vous is initially quite charming, before overstaying its welcome. One of the funniest things about Hughes’s films of this period is how many superfluous roles there are for women under the age of 30. Such was his harem of wannabe actresses that he was ultimately forced to create an entire film, Son of Sinbad, just to give them something to do. The French Line, damaged as usual by his interference and seen now in a washed-out print, is a tired, thin, often laughable musical-comedy. (1.5)



The Hour (S1, 2011)
– Abi Morgan’s drama-cum-thriller swings between greatness and mediocrity, chronicling the launch of a groundbreaking BBC news show, as the Suez Crisis hums away in the background, getting ready to explode. The central affair between producer Romola Garai and anchor Dominic West (who acts with his teeth) is spectacularly uninteresting, the political content is both under and over-explained until the last episode, and the programme itself is too often ignored. But The Hour builds as it progresses and there are wonderful moments all over the place, particularly from Ben Whishaw as the resentful, brilliant Freddie. The bit where he finds out that Garai and West have been shagging away is an absolutely stunning piece of acting and his intense, fascinating characterisation is reason enough to tune in. The supporting cast is led by Anton Lesser – excellent – and Julian Rhind-Tutt, who does a fine job with a somewhat one-dimensional part. I also took to the thriller elements; that side of it was pretty engrossing. The Hour starts too slowly, meanders too often and doesn’t always know what its strong suit is, but at its best it is special, and the final hour is a tour-de-force. If only they’d stop saying “Moneypenny”. (3)