The Good the Bad and the Sequel

The first thing to remember about films is this, they are not a public service, they are made to make money. They start life as a business proposition. Producers start by asking would the public want to see this? Would they pay to see this? Suppose we got famous film star Mr X to star opposite film actress Miss X? One sure fire way of making the public want to see something is by making the film again. How can they make it again? By making the sequel! Sequels can be good, they can be bad but sometimes they can be downright ugly . .

Let’s start with the good.

The Godfather

The daddy of all mafia movies, this film by Francis Ford Coppola is one of the great films of all time. Based on the book by Mario Puzo and with a script by Coppola and Puzo himself it excels in just about every area of film making. The acting (Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall and many others) is excellent as is the photgraphy, the editing and the soundtrack. Coppola fought to have Brando play the title role and even had to make a screen test before Paramount executives would accept Marlon as Don Vito Corleone.

The original book was too big to be filmed so only part of the story is used. Don Corleone meets with fellow mafioso Sollozzo who asks for the Don’s help in a drug smuggling enterprise, hoping to enlist Corleone because of his political connections. The Don declines to get involved as this would risk alienating those same political connections. Sollozzo’s answer is to assassinate Corleone, however his attempt fails.

Michael Corleone then murders Sollozzo but has to escape back to Sicily. The murder causes an all out mafia war. In an attempt to make peace Don Corleone meets with the other mafia Dons. The peace is made but Corleone realises that it is Don Barzini who is the true enemy.

After Don Corleone passes away Michael wins a final victory by murdering all his opponents.

The film was the highest grossing movie of 1972 and won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Godfather Part II

As I said earlier, the original novel was too long to fit into one film so Part II features a leftover narrative from the book, told in flashback and the continuing story of Michael as the new Godfather.

Robert De Niro plays a young Vito Corleone who emigrates to America to escape the vendetta that has left him an orphan and that story runs parallel with Michael Corleone’s plan to move his family from New York to Las Vegas. Michael suspects financier Hyman Roth to be behind a failed assassination attempt but decides to travel to Havana and meet with Roth to discuss a deal involving Cuban casinos. The revolution happens while they are there and Michael escapes from the island but discovers that his own brother, Fredo, is the one who has betrayed him.

The young Vito Corleone’s story continues in flashback. Having set up a successful business in New York, Vito finds that Fanucci, a local gangster wants a pay off. Vito’s colleagues are fearful and decide to pay off Fanucci but Vito persuades them to let him settle the matter. He will make Fanucci an offer he cannot refuse he says. Later, he secretly murders Fanucci and afterwards finds himself both feared and respected as the Godfather.

Michael is subjected to a Senate investigation into his activities but avoids prosecution by bringing the brother of the star witness into court. The suggestion is clear; the witness must decline to give evidence or his brother will die.

As Vito becomes more successful, he returns to Sicily to seek vengeance for his family and murders the Sicilian Don responsible for their deaths.

Michael has Hyman Roth murdered as well as his own brother Fredo, who betrayed the family.

Once again the performances are superb and one of particular note is that of veteran acting coach Lee Strasberg. He is excellent in this one off film performance as Hyman Roth. Strasberg’s workshop, the Actor’s Studio, once taught Brando, Clift and Monroe the ‘method’, the technique of acting devised by the Russian actor Stanislavski. Strasberg brought the method to the persona of Hyman Roth and created an outstanding if slimy character.

Godfather Part II won 6 Oscars and became the first sequel to ever win the Best Picture statuette.

Here’s the bad . .

Bridget Jones’s Baby

A film I’ve seen on TV during the lockdown was Bridget Jones’s Baby. The film is the third film in the Bridget Jones series following on from Bridget Jones Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The film, like all the others in the series, was based on the book by Helen Fielding. The original film was pretty amusing, not completely my cup of tea but I enjoyed it.

The second, The Edge of Reason, was again, pretty amusing. Both films concern the adventures of young Bridget Jones. In the first film she works in London for a publishing company, has an affair with her boss and then leaves for a career in TV. Her parents set her up for a date with a guy called Mark which doesn’t work out but towards the end of the film Mark comes back for a second try and Bridget has to work out who she really wants to be with. The Edge of Reason was pretty much more of the same.

When I came to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby earlier this year I was surprised to hear the TV announcer warning me of some ‘highly offensive language’ used in the film. Bridget Jones? Offensive? Really? Yes really! Even a scene with a child swearing. OK I do swear myself now and again but some of the language in this film was actually just as the announcer suggested and was highly offensive. The other thing was that most of the actors looked really old, really haggard. Now this may have been that we were watching on our new smart TV and the picture quality is just so good these days that it can appear daunting. Sometimes, when Liz and I are at our local pub quiz, Liz will ask why am I watching the TV when it’s tuned to Sky Sports news when I don’t even like sport? Well, a lot of the time I am just amazed that I can see some football pundit’s pores or some hair that has escaped his razor. Still, the original film in the Bridget Jones series was made in 2001 while Baby was from 2016 some fifteen years later.

Film tends to freeze an actor in time and when you see them on TV talk shows plugging their new film it can be surprising to see just how old an actor has become. A while back I was watching Tom Hanks on the Graham Norton show and he had grey hair! Tom Hanks? Of course, not long prior to that, I had watched Apollo 13 which was made in 1995, 25 years ago!

Bridget Jones’ Baby finally settled down but I wasn’t totally impressed. In fact, I’d have to put it into the bad category.

Wall Street.

Wall Street was a 1987 film by one of my favourite directors, Oliver Stone. It was a big hit for Stone, in fact an iconic film really. Michael Douglas was brilliant in the role of Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko, a man who is happy to manipulate the stock market for his own ends. Charlie Sheen is pretty good too. Sheen plays Bud Fox, a young stockbroker who is anxious to, in his words, bag the elephant, set up a deal with his hero, Gordon Gekko.

Fox’s father played by Sheen’s real life father, Martin Sheen, lets on to son Bud that Blue Star Airlines where he works as a union rep is about to receive a favourable ruling in a ongoing legal case. The ruling will free up Blue Star to expand into new routes. Bud manages to wangle a meeting with Gekko in which he lets slip about Blue Star.

Gekko calls Bud and buys stock in Blue Star and Bud’s star as a stockbroker begins to rise. Later Gekko wants more information and Bud decides to invest in an office cleaning company so he can spy and find more insider information. Bud makes more and more money and moves into an expensive apartment. Later, the relationship between Bud and Gekko sours when Bud finds out that Gekko is planning to dissolve Blue Star and sell off the assets. Bud strikes a deal with rival investor Sir Lawrence Wildman to steal the company away from Gekko.

The film shows the world of stocks, shares and investments in minute detail, the camera moves relentlessly among the young wheeler dealers watching the stock options and moving in for the kill. The character of Gordon Gekko, indeed the entire film has become an icon for yuppies and the eighties ethos of making a quick buck. A phrase of Gekko’s ‘greed, for lack of a better word, is good’ has become synonomous with eighties success and was inspired by a real speech from an investor to the 1986 graduating class of the U.C. Berkeley School of Business Administration.

Michael Douglas won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gordon Gekko.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Money Never Sleeps was a 2010 sequel directed once again by Oliver Stone with Michael Douglas returning to his role as Gordon Gekko. Gekko is released from prison following his conviction for insider trading and securities fraud. Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie is involved with Jacob Moore, a trader at KZI Investments. The company suffers in a recession predicted by Gekko and the managing director commits suicide. Jacob meets with Gordon Gekko and promises to help him rekindle his relationship with Winnie and in return Gekko will search for information about Bretton James who blocked help for KZI Investments.

It all gets a little complicated here but Gekko has hidden 100 million dollars in a trust fund account for Winnie. The money is freed up for Gekko to invest on her behalf but then Gekko does the double cross and exits with the 100 million in his pocket. After using it to set up his own successful company he hands the 100 million back but the whole thing is so complicated I found it hard to follow. I had thought that perhaps the Charlie Sheen character would play a big part in the film but Sheen only has a small cameo as Bud Fox. Shia LaBeouf plays the part of Jacob Moore but somehow never looks convincing, he never seems to fit in. The character of Jacob was supposed to be similar to that of Bud Fox in the original but the actor just doesn’t really look comfortable in the part. Douglas is good as Gekko once again but the whole film suffers from a lack of pace which is not helped by the complicated nature of the plot. Carey Mulligan plays Gekko’s daughter Winnie who once upon a time featured in one of my favourite episodes of the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Ultimately, an interesting film, not good, not ugly but I have to put it in the bad category.

Get Shorty

Get Shorty is a 1995 film based on the book by Elmore Leonard. The book is a fast paced read about a shylock, a loan shark called Chilli Palmer. In the film he’s played wonderfully well by John Travolta. Chilli has a couple of run ins with fellow mobster Ray Bones in which both times Bones comes off the worse. Chilli’s mob boss dies and Ray’s mob boss takes over the business and suddenly, Chilli finds himself working for Ray Bones.

Ray sends Chilli off to find out if a recently deceased client has left any money behind to pay off his loans. Chilli finds out that in fact the client is still alive after failing to board an aircraft that later crashed and killed all on board. Finding himself suddenly ‘dead’ the client takes off to Vegas with a suitcase of money to live the high life. Chilli goes off to find him but is asked by a casino owner to pay a call on producer Harry Zimm who also owes a great deal of money. Finding Zimm in Hollywood, Chilli, who is a big movie fan, pitches an idea to Zimm, a thinly veiled story of his life coupled with that of the client who missed the fatal aircraft flight.

Gene Hackman plays the producer Harry Zimm who also owes money to a drug dealer and Chilli offers to sort out the drug dealer in return for being part of a new project called Mr Lovejoy. Suddenly, Chilli is in the movie business.

Travolta is just brilliant as Chilli Palmer easily switching from friendly movie fan to hard faced loan shark. Look at me is the catchphrase Chilli uses to impress himself on a client. I love the way Chilli pops a cigarette into his mouth with accustomed ease and takes a smoke confidently enjoying the nicotine. There’s also a great scene where Chilli shows actor Martin Weir (Danny De Vito) how to act ‘tough’.

Get Shorty is funny and dramatic with tons of witty dialogue lifted directly from Elmore Leonard’s book. It’s a joy to watch and Travolta and Hackman are excellent as are Rene Russo as Zimm’s actress girlfriend and Delroy Lido as the gangster who has invested in another of Zimm’s films.

Get Shorty was a great success so fast forward 10 years to 2005 and cue Be Cool.

OK, time to reveal the ugly . .

Be Cool

Be Cool once again stars Travolta as Chilli Palmer only this time Chilli has become bored with the movie business and decides to move into the music industry. The film starts off well with the shooting of his friend Tommy Athens. Chilli offers to help Tommy’s widow (Uma Thurman) who now owes money to hip hop producer Sin Lasalle.

I enjoyed the action packed start but then just got bored watching some of the other stuff.  Linda Moon is a singer and Chilli decides to take over as her manager. Why, I don’t know because her singing isn’t that great. Her old manager might be Nick Carr played by Harvey Keitel. A guy called Raji could also be Linda’s manager or have a stake in her contract (I lost the plot somewhere about here) and he hires a hit man to take out Chilli. The hitman kills another hitman instead of Chilli and later a bunch of gangsta rappers appear wearing those crazy jeans that hang off their backsides. How they all managed to stuff handguns back there I don’t know.

The result is a dreadful dull film. I bought it on DVD ages ago on the strength of Get Shorty. I couldn’t really remember it, I’d clearly blocked it out of my memory so I watched it again for the purpose of this blog post otherwise I might have been tempted to press the eject button a lot earlier than I did. Even John Travolta, so good in the original cannot save this movie.

Take a look at the video below for a hint at how good the original was.


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3 Films about films

Every now and then, the film industry will make a film about itself, yes, a movie about the movie industry. There a quite a few I could include in a post like this but here are three of my favourites.

A Star is Born

I’m not sure how many times this film has been remade, the simple answer is plenty. There was the original 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredrick March, the 1976 version with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand and there was even a 2018 version with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. My favourite is the version from 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason. What a cracking film! In case you don’t know the story, it’s pretty simple, famous film star on the way out helps unknown star who is on the way up.

Judy Garland plays Esther Blodget, an unknown singer who meets drunken film star Norman Maine played by James Mason. Esther comes to Norman’s aid when he drunkenly wanders onto a stage where she is performing and pretends that Maine’s drunken behaviour is all part of the act. Maine later watches her perform at an after hours club and urges her to pack the band in and come to Hollywood.

The film shows Hollywood in the 1950s and the studio machine in action as it tries to remodel Esther into a movie star, with make up and costume teams, writers, publicists and of course a name change: Esther becomes Vicki Lester, only finding out about her name change when she goes to pick up her pay check.

Norman gets the studio boss Oliver Niles to listen to her singing and as a result Vicki is cast in a top Hollywood musical and becomes a star. She marries Norman but his drunken antics get worse. I won’t tell you the end in case you haven’t seen it but be prepared for great performances from both Mason and Garland. Judy was in fact nominated for an Oscar losing out to Grace Kelly.

The Bad and the Beautiful

This is one of my absolute favourite films and tells the story of a producer who wants to make it big in Hollywood. Kirk Douglas plays the part of Jonathan Shields, the son of a producer dumped by the industry who was so unpopular that Jonathan had to hire extras to come to his funeral. As the film opens, Shields has made it big but cannot get financing for a new project without the help of three former friends, actress Lana Turner, screen writer Dick Powell and director Barry Sullivan. None of them want to be involved but producer Walter Pidgeon asks them to listen to a call from Shields. As they await the call, their stories and former involvement with Shields are told in flashback.

Barry Sullivan plays director Fred Amiel who works closely with producer Shields. They make a great producer/director team but when a big break comes for the partnership, Shields betrays Amiel and gives the directing chair to a big name director. Amiel refuses to work with Shields again.

Shields works with alcoholic actress Georgia Lorrison and builds her confidence to take on a big role in one of his films. Georgia falls in love with Shields but even though he is not interested in her romantically, he strings Georgia along so she can complete her performance in the film. She is distraught when she finds out the truth but he releases her from her contract and she has great success at another studio. There’s quite an interesting moment when Shields wants to be alone after the completion of the film. The ending of a production always brings on a deep depression for him. I have to say I always feel that way after putting the finishing touches to one of my YouTube videos!

There is a third sequence involving writer Dick Powell’s character and the film ends on an interesting note; will the three collaborate with Shields for one final film? The film really brings home the background work done on a film, the writing, the production and all the other elements that make a picture. The film was directed by Vincente Minelli who went on to marry Judy Garland and became the father of Lisa Minelli.

Sunset Boulevard

Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson this is one of my all time favourite films. Holden stars as down and out screen writer Joe Gillis. He narrates the film from the opening sequence, where we see Joe’s dead body floating in a pool, right to the dramatic end.

Gillis finds his car about to be repossessed so needing money fast He heads to the Paramount lot where he tries to sell an old script. He Has no luck there but the repo men are hot on his tail. He tries to evade them by hiding in an abandoned Hollywood mansion. The mansion it turns out is not abandoned; former silent star Norma Desmond (Swanson) lives there and hires Gillis as a script doctor to work on a screenplay she has written for her comeback.

Gillis isn’t sure who she is at first but then recognises her: Cue the famous lines:

GILLIS: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be big!

DESMOND: I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!

The dialogue is brilliant as is the whole film and it’s interesting too to see the old locations such as the Paramount Studios entrance, Schwabs drugstore (8024 Sunset Boulevard) that was once frequented by Hollywood actors and extras and many other places. Wilder also cast former silent director Erich Von Stronheim to play Norma Desmond’s former husband and director, now relegated to manservant and chauffeur. Stronheim himself actually directed Swanson in some of her silent fims.

Cecil B De Mille even makes a fascinating guest appearance as himself as does columnist Hedda Hopper. Look out for Buster Keaton in a small part too.

OK, that’s my three films. All of them show the glamour of film making in the 1950’s. The big cameras, the behind the scenes action, the PR men and the Hollywood studio system. It’s sad to see most of that has gone. These days you could probably make a motion picture with just a small digital camera, maybe even the Canon G7X that I use for YouTube videos. Maybe I should be dusting off my scripts and looking for my cast!

What are your favourite films about film making?


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits . .

This week I’ve been focussed on other things rather than blogging so I decided to take a few half finished posts and stitch them into one. Maybe it’s worked, maybe not. Here we go . . .

All of Me an autobiography by Barbara Windsor

Barbara is probably best known as the blonde from the Carry On films. It’s a niche that’s she stuck in despite her appearances in later years in the TV soap Eastenders. Maybe she likes that, maybe not but either way, she’s rather good at what she does. In this book, she tells her life story and it’s very frank and pretty entertaining.

‘Bar’ as her friends call her, doesn’t hold back and basically tells it like it is. She talks about her climb to fame and the husbands she has had along the way. First was Ronnie Knight, an East End gangster and friend of the Kray twins. Ronnie and Bar seemed pretty good together for a while but neither of them were interested in each other’s careers. Barbara would be off filming and Ronnie it seemed wasn’t bothered at all about that. He would be off to sort his nightclub out and Bar would be happy at home having to get up early for a film or rehearsing for one of her many stage roles. On one occasion in the early morning, the police burst in and carted Ronnie off to the nick for armed robbery. Barbara stuck by her man then but soon after, she’d had enough.

After Ronnie got the push, he was ‘aving it off’ with a blonde down at his club; Bar moved on to a younger guy and when that didn’t work out she moved onto an even younger guy. That younger guy, Scott, is still with her today and was in the news recently as Barbara has sadly been stricken with dementia and may have to go into residential care.

One surprising aspect of the book is that although like fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams, I’d always thought of Barbara as a film and TV star, in fact a great deal of her career involved the stage and she appeared in many stage productions including her own one woman show.

This book, written in 2000 is a great little read and well worth picking up if you see it in the book shop. It’s written in a friendly talkative chit chat style, almost as if Bar has dictated it to someone and that’s something I particularly like about the book. The last quarter of the book though feels a little as if it has been tagged onto the end of another book. It mainly concerns her relationship with final husband Scott and is perhaps a little gushing and overly romantic and Woman’s Weekly style but I reckon Bar deserved a little romance in the twilight of her days. Nice read and a book well worth picking up.

Chaplin directed by Richard Attenborough

Searching through my old VHS videos the other day, I came across Chaplin, a film about the great silent comedian, directed by Richard Attenborough. I can’t say I’m a great fan of Attenborough as a director and this film showing us the life and times of Charlie Chaplin is lacking in many ways, but having said that it’s a pretty good film in many other ways.

I’ve often thought that if I could go back in time to any era, I’d go back to Hollywood in the 1920’s, the time of silent films. Someone, and I forget who it was, discovered that Hollywood had the perfect climate for making movies. Great weather, plenty of sun, all the requisites for making silent movies. Films back then were shot either outdoors or with basic sets without a roof, all lit by the relentless Californian sun. You didn’t need a degree to be a director in those days, just confidence and the ability to put a film together, not only in your head but to transfer it to film.

I don’t think Charlie Chaplin was really that funny, certainly not as funny as Laurel and Hardy for instance but he was the first film comedian to do more than link a series of funny images or sketches together. He added a little pathos, made the viewer feel for the character, care about the character as well as laugh at him.

Chaplin is loosely based on Charlie’s own autobiography, with a fictional editor played by Anthony Hopkins trying to add in all the bits that Chaplin didn’t want to write about, his various young wives for instance. Robert Downey Junior plays Chaplin and Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s real ife daughter, plays Chaplin’s mother who sadly descended into madness. Chaplin brought her to America and looked after her although he visited her infrequently.

The great loves of his life were his mother, his brother Sydney and his great friend Douglas Fairbanks. Sadly, Chaplin emerges  from his autobiography and from this film as essentially a sad fellow, someone in a way unfulfilled, although his films indeed changed the course of cinema history. In his time he was probably the most famous person in the world, his silent films were unrestricted by the restraints of language and his fame covered the entire globe, anywhere in fact that had a projector and a screen.

There are some great performances in this film, Kevin Kline is good as Douglas Fairbanks as is Dan Ackroyd playing the part of producer Mack Sennet. Robert Downey isn’t so bad either in the title role. I read somewhere that the film was a disaster at the box office. Pity. Personally I really enjoyed it.

Annoying Things Part 17

I was saving this for an ongoing blog post about annoying elements of the 21st Century which I update every now and then but instead here it is now. Having been cooped up at home for over 12 weeks I called into work ready to get back to my desk but apparently the Human Resources Department (years ago we used to call them ‘personnel’) decided I couldnt go back until August 1st. As a lot of the lockdown has eased we decided to have a trip out in the motorhome.

We found a nice spot to stop and set up our little camp, part of which involved a ground sheet. Now a ground sheet is something used by campers to lay down on the ground. It came in a smart plastic case and we unfolded it, spread it out and spent a considerable amount of time in the sun on it, lying around, reading, sunbathing and so on.

Later on when we packed up, I folded the ground sheet up but somehow it must have grown or stretched because no matter how I folded it, and I did do it according the still visible folds on the sheet itself, no way would it ever go back in that case. A similar thing happened the other week when I bought a hair cutting kit. It came in a box, the electric hair cutters, various length combs, a plug and so on. After I had performed my post lockdown personal haircut would that lot fit back in the box? Of course not! I’m sure one of the main design factors in these items is to make the box so small that the items will only ever fit in once and even then only in a certain way.

Of course I could put the hair cutters in the plastic bag from the groundsheet and then just tie up the ground sheet with an old belt. Result!


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Films, Allegories and McCarthyism

In the 1950’s, Senator Eugene McCarthy, aided and abetted by the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, began to accuse hundreds of Americans of being either communists or communist sympathisers. Hoover had designed President Truman’s loyalty and security program and his agents carried out background checks on federal employees. This information was supposed to be secret but in 1950 when the Korean War began, Senator McCarthy produced a list of supposed communist party members or supporters working for the state department and presented it to the press. Much of his information came from Hoover.

The House Committee on Un-American activities was probably the best known and most active government committee involved in anti-communist investigations and probably became most well known for its investigation into the Hollywood film industry. In 1947 the committee began to subpoena various film industry workers and force them to testify about their support for the communist party. They were asked ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?’

The first witnesses brought before the committee refused to answer and became known as the Hollywood 10. They all cited the constitution’s first amendment which they believed guaranteed free speech and free assembly and therefore freed them from the requirement to answer the committee’s questions. They were wrong. The communists of the USSR may have been allies in the defeat of Hitler but now that Nazi Germany lay in ruins, the red menace was the new enemy and America was scared.

The committee questioned numerous people, actors, directors, screenwriters and many others and more than 300 individuals were blacklisted by the industry. Some like Charlie Chaplin, left the country. Some screenwriters wrote under pseudonyms to find work. Larry Parks, the star of The Jolson Story, testified in tears. He was blacklisted and left the movie business after his contract with Columbia Pictures was cancelled.

Two prominent ‘friendly’ witnesses were director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg.

On the Waterfront

Director Elia Kazan had originally employed Arthur Miller to write the screenplay for On the Waterfront but the two fell out over various things especially the fact that Kazan had identified eight former communists to the HUAC. Kazan then asked Budd Schulberg to write the script. There was still some difficulty in getting the film to the screen and eventually Kazan approached Sam Spiegel to act as producer. He was able to set up a deal with Columbia Studios.

The film stars Marlon Brando as dock worker Terry Malloy, brother of Charlie ‘the gent’ who is the right hand man of union boss John Friendly played by Lee J Cobb. Terry unwittingly leads fellow dockworker Joey Doyle into an ambush, thinking Doyle will be threatened to withdraw his statements to the crime commision. However Doyle is murdered leaving Terry shocked and confused. Later he becomes friendly with Joey’s sister played by Eva Marie Saint in her film debut. Charlie, played by Rod Steiger, tries to get Terry back into line in the famous scene with the two in the back of a taxi but fails. After John Friendly has Terry’s brother murdered, the local priest played by Karl Malden convinces Terry to tell everything he knows to the waterfront crime commission. Terry does so but is ostracised by his fellow dockers until Terry forces Friendly into a brutal fight. The dockers then stand with Terry when bruised and battered, he returns to work.

The film was thought to be Kazan’s response to criticism of his stand at the HUAC hearings although Schulberg later denied this, explaining how he attended actual waterfront hearings and based his film on those. Arthur Miller in his play A View from the Bridge has his character inform on two illegal immigrants but it is portrayed as a betrayal rather than the honest informing of Waterfront.

Either way, On the Waterfront is one of my very favourite films and Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy won him one the film’s eight Oscars. Forget about Don Corleone, this was Marlon Brando’s finest hour.

Spartacus

Spartacus was based on a book by Howard Fast who was jailed for his refusal to testify at the HUAC hearings. According to Wikipedia, he wrote the book while in prison. Kirk Douglas was disappointed at not getting the lead role in Ben Hur and looking round for a similar project came across Fast’s book. He purchased an option on the book with his own money. Later, financing was arranged with Universal Studios.

Dalton Trumbo wrote the script although he had been blacklisted but managed to continue working by using an alias. He had earlier been jailed for contempt of congress as he was a member of the Hollywood 10.  Kirk Douglas decided that Trumbo should be given a screen credit in his own name and this action helped to end the blacklist.

Anthony Mann was the original director but Douglas fired him after 2 weeks claiming he was scared of the scope of the picture. Douglas then hired Stanley Kubrick to direct, Kubrick having worked with Douglas previously on Paths of Glory.

The film has been said to have links not only to the McCarthy era but also to the American civil rights movement. Slavery is a central theme to the film and the fight to end segregation in America is reflected in the mixing of various races in the Gladiator school. The climatic scene where the rebels are asked to give up Spartacus and instead call out ‘I am Spartacus’, alludes to the HUAC hearings where witnesses were asked to name names.

Spartacus is a wonderful film and was restored twice, once in 1991 and again in 2015 where a version 12 minutes longer was produced as well as having a remastered soundtrack.

Kirk Douglas is excellent in the lead role and a trio of characters played by Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton work together so faultlessly they help elevate the film to an outstanding degree. Poor John Dall, who plays Glabrus is hopelessly outclassed by the British actors.

High Noon

High Noon is not a movie that I would have thought would be in any way related to McCarthyism or the HUAC hearings. However, the film was directed by Fred Zinneman from a screenplay by Carl Foreman. Foreman was called to testify before the HUAC . He admitted once being a communist party member but declined to name any fellow members and was therefore classed as an uncooperative witness. Realising he would be blacklisted, he later sold his partnership in the film project and moved to the UK.

John Wayne declined the lead role as he thought the film an obvious allegory of blacklisting, of which he was a fervent supporter. Gregory Peck amongst others turned down the role and it eventually went to Gary Cooper. Grace Kelly played Cooper’s new wife despite the age difference; she was 21 and Cooper 50.

Marshall Will Kane (Cooper) marries devout Quaker Amy Fowler (Kelly) however the Marshall gets word that Frank Miller, a vicious gunman who Kane had sent to prison years before has been released and is due to arrive on the noon train. At first Kane decides to leave town but then realises he will be caught out in the open with the gunmen coming after him. Not only that, the gunmen are making him run and ‘I’ve never run from anybody before’ he tells Amy.

Will returns to town but his new wife, whose extreme religious beliefs include an vehement opposition to violence, will have nothing more to do with him. As the minutes tick relentlessly down to noon he tries to get a group of deputies together, but for one reason or another they all fail him and he has to face Miller and his gang alone.

At the end of the film, reconciled with Amy, Cooper looks around disgusted by the townspeople who have shunned him and throws his Marshall’s badge to the ground.

The tension mounts up relentlessly in the film and builds to a wonderful climax. Another great aspect of the film was the music and the distinctive theme song, actually called ‘High Noon’ although mostly known as ‘Do not forsake me oh my darlin’’. It became a hit for Tex Ritter.

My brother and I watched this film a few months ago and afterwards he told me a story that our dad had told him years ago. Dad saw the film when he was in the army. Dad served in various places but wherever they were on this occasion, the film was projected in a big tent. Afterwards when the men dispersed after the showing, the theme tune had made such a big impression that they were all whistling or humming ‘Do not forsake me oh my darlin”.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Codes, Films, Christmas and John Wayne

There are two particular films that come to mind at Christmas. I’m not talking about films that are typical Christmas films, things like It’s a Wonderful life or Scrooge or even Home Alone but films that tell the true story of Christmas, the story of Jesus himself. The two films I’m thinking of are King of Kings and The Greatest Story ever Told.

King of Kings starred Geoffrey Hunter as Jesus and in the Greatest Story it was Max Von Sydow. Max was in a way an unusual choice to play Jesus, he was pale and blue eyed and had a faint Swedish accent. Even so, he played a good part, so much so that whenever I see another portrayal of Christ, I always mentally compare it to that of Max. As for being pale and blue eyed, I suppose it is inevitable that people everywhere will envisage their religious icons in their own terms.

Geoffrey Hunter you may remember from the Star Trek pilot episode where he played Captain Pike, the original captain of the Enterprise. The producers of Star Trek, not wanting to waste the footage shot in the pilot, remade it into a two part episode where Mr Spock tries to help his former captain and is court marshalled.  In King of Kings Hunter plays a Jesus a little more forceful than that of Max Von Sydow’s but both portrayals are excellent. In King of Kings the director seems to compare the life of Jesus with that of Barrabus the rebel and freedom fighter –or terrorist, depending on your viewpoint. The two lives come together when Pontius Pilate asks the Jerusalem mob who do they wish to be freed. The mob chose Barrabus.

King of Kings was directed by Nick Ray who directed the famous Rebel without a Cause, James Dean’s iconic second film.

The Greatest Story was directed by George Stevens who made such classic films as Shane and James Dean’s last film Giant. Stevens was a director who worked the way I would work if I was a director. He shot a great deal of film then sat back, reviewed everything and put his film together one brushstroke –or film clip-  at a time. He chose Max to star as Jesus as he wanted a performer that was unknown to the general public. He might have been better in choosing unknown actors for the other roles too because the many star appearances seem to stop the viewer in his or her tracks as we spot various top actors and actresses in minor roles.

I do have a personal reason for liking this film. Once, many years ago my school friends and I were taken on a Christmas school trip to watch the film. We walked it as I remember in crocodile fashion from our Junior school Crossacres, down Wiggins hill and into Gatley, a small nearby village that boasted a lovely old cinema. That trip to watch this film did more for me than any teacher or RE lesson had ever done before or since and although I cannot claim to be overtly religious, I am certainly not an atheist and my respect for the person of Jesus has never been greater.

In Dan Brown’s thriller the Da Vinci Code, Brown looks at the ideas presented in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail about the idea that Jesus was married and that his widow, Mary Magdalene went to France where her child began a bloodline that exits to this day. The Holy Grail apparently was not a goblet that caught drops of blood from Jesus but an actual bloodline, a dynasty of Meringovian Kings that can be traced back to Jesus himself.

In the Da Vinci Code, Brown reveals these things as something that could tear the Christian church apart, why, I don’t know. To me, the idea that Jesus married and had children means he is more human and more understanding of the human condition than I have previously thought, so this news, if indeed it is actual news, does not distress me, to me it is joyous news.

While on the subject of the Da Vinci Code, I read it some time ago and although the book has many detractors, I personally found it a gripping read, one that I found hard to put down. Its effect though is perhaps like one of those very bright and loud fireworks that capture the attention for a short while and then fizzle out. In a St Annes charity shop not long ago where I go to peruse the second hand books and DVDs, they had a sign up next to an entire row of Da Vinci Codes. No more Da Vinci Code please: We’ve got plenty!

At the Regent Cinema in Blackpool they recently had a showing of that Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Sadly I was working that day but I hope to catch up with the film soon as they are bound to show it again on TV over Christmas. Director Frank Capra is another of my favourite directors and the film successfully combines fantasy with real life and James Stewart plays such a good part. Pity I missed that showing at the Regent, I really fancied seeing the film on the big screen.

There are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, 73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw a while ago but the definitive version is the one with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol was published over a hundred and seventy years ago. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge.. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

I must finish with one final anecdote about The Greatest Story ever Told. As I have mentioned, numerous star actors make guest appearances in the film from Sydney Poiter to Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury to Shelley Winters and many others but there is one I must mention: John Wayne as the Centurion who watches Jesus die on the cross. When Wayne uttered his immortal line, ‘truly this man was the son of God.’ Director George Stevens called ‘cut’ and asked Wayne to do the scene again but this time with more awe.

Wayne duly complied.

‘Action’ called Stevens.

‘Aww, truly this man was the son of God’ said Wayne.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Gregory’s Girl and Memories of Schooldays

There are two films in particular that bring back memories of my schooldays. One is the classic movie Kes and the other is a film that I watched last Sunday night; Gregory’s Girl.

Gregory’s Girl was a low-budget movie made in 1981 and was written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film is a gentle comedy about a young lad who fancies a girl who has just joined his school football team. The film was one of those special films where so many things come together to make a truly great and memorable film, in fact it is ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute’s list of the top 100 British films.

It reminds me so much of my own schooldays in so many ways. The hairstyles in the film were similar to those of myself and my friends back in 1973, the year I left school (armed with only four O levels to take on the world). The school ties and jackets were similar to mine, the classrooms and desks were also similar and lead actor John Gordon Sinclair’s gaudy and shy manner both on and off the football field was just like mine.

The scene where Sinclair, playing the part of Gregory, asked Dorothy for a date brought back memories. I remember asking some long forgotten girl out once. I had planned what to do and what to say but nothing came out. The girl, perhaps recognising my situation asked me ‘would I be going down the shops tonight?’

The shops, yes that’s where my school friends used to congregate of an evening and we didn’t do much except talk and wander about. Sometimes there would be a ball game, other times, just like Gregory, we’d go down to the chip shop and eat a bag of chips. We did talk, that long forgotten girl and me, but that was about all we did, after all we shared our ‘date’ with about six other people!

On Gregory’s date he borrows his friend’s jacket and my friend Chris also had a jacket which he loaned to his friends. It was his number two jacket, not quite as smart as his number one jacket and when Chris used to take us to places where we could ‘chat up’ the girls I would always get friends and acquaintances asking me ‘is that Chris’ jacket?’ I would always deny it but that jacket was pretty well known!

In the early seventies fashions were different and I was famous at my school for having the biggest and fattest tie, just like my hero, flamboyant TV detective Jason King. Back then my school pals and I all loved Jason King and his trendy outfits and we went out of our way to get a giant tie knot, just like the one Jason had in ‘Department S.’ Most of the kids got the big knot by tying their ties way down at the fat end of the tie making their ties short but at least with a big knot. I got some help with my tie from an unexpected source: My Mother!

We were watching Department S one day and I was wishing out loud for a big fat tie like the one Peter Wyngarde who played Jason King was sporting and she said to me “You could make one yourself. It’s easy.”

“Easy!” I said. “How?”

“Well, all you need is another tie to go inside the first one and make it bigger.” Sounds good I thought but how do you get one tie inside another? My Mum showed me how with a big safety pin! What you had to do was get your second tie, the one that needs to go inside the other, pin the safety pin to it and then you can thread it through the other one, manipulating it along with the safety pin which you can feel through the material.

I dug out an old tie and threaded it through my school tie, took out the safety pin and then tied my tie in the usual way. Result-one huge knot that Jason King himself would be pleased with.

The next day I went into school wearing my new fashionable tie and half the school–or so it seemed to me-were stunned by my trendy new school tie. Where did I get it from? How did I get such a knot? Did I tie it in a special way?

I remember once after games, getting changed in the changing rooms and everyone turned to watch as I fastened my tie. There was me, fastening the tie in the mirror with all my school mates watching. I had become a sort of mini school celebrity: The kid with the trendy tie!

“Here it comes,” said someone as I made the final tie of the knot, “Super knot!”

Well, my fifteen minutes of fame came, went, and vanished as other people worked out how to make their own special ‘super knots.’ Jason King went on to star in his own spin-off TV series then he too vanished into TV’s Golden past. Fashion moved on and in the eighties ties went the other way; narrow thin ties were the norm. Trousers lost their flares, jacket lapels slimmed down once again. ‘Penny round’ shirts were forgotten but then, that’s the great thing about old movies like Gregory’s Girl, whenever they pop up again on TV you can experience everything all over again!

Another movie that reminds me of schooldays, although in a different way, was Kes. Kes was a 1969 film directed by Ken Loach and based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It’s about a teenage schoolboy in a deprived part of Yorkshire. The boy comes from a dysfunctional family and he is bullied by his older brother. He fares badly at school and has few friends but seems to find a direction in life after finding a baby kestrel and he decides to care for and train the bird.

It’s a gritty film that pulls no punches and it’s shot in a realistic documentary style using a lot of local and amateur actors as well as professionals. One sequence that stood out for me was about a group of boys who are outside the headmaster’s study awaiting punishment. Another lad who comes along with a message for the head finds himself caught up with the guilty boys and given a few strokes of the strap as a result. When they shot the scene, director Loach assured the boys they would not be strapped and he would call ‘cut’ just in time. He didn’t and the result, seen in the film is for real.

My own headmaster was very like the head in the film. He used to give these long elaborate morning assemblies and talk, quite eloquently about some subject or other, the Vietnam war being one of his favourites and then, right in the middle of speaking he would burst out in a complete frenzy, shout at some boy or other to remove himself and wait at his office for punishment for talking during assembly. Why he couldn’t just make a note of the offenders and seek them out later or arrange for one of his teachers to direct the boys to his office I don’t know.

Looking at the trailer above there were some great performances from both amateur and professional actors. Brian Glover, a familiar face to British TV viewers played the aggressive football master and Colin Welland played one of the more sympathetic teachers. He was a veteran of the TV show Z-Cars and went on to write the screenplays for the movies Yanks and Chariots of Fire for which he won an Oscar.

Two movies then, both completely different in tone and outlook. Both wonderful viewing but one makes me look back and think ‘thank God my school days are over’. The other allows me to look back warmly and remember the good times. School days are important and I made such a lot of mistakes back then, mistakes that changed my whole life. If only I’d chosen my subjects better, if only I’d been more determined to be a writer back then and hadn’t had my head set so firmly in the clouds. Maybe I could have trained as a newspaper reporter and actually written for a living.

Either way, I’d probably still be here, still writing this blog although perhaps with a better title: Letters from a Northern Reporter sounds good . .


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Christmas Day Menu: Starter, Main and Classic Film.

There has been some discussion in our household recently about Christmas dinner. Personally, I think I am just easy to please but others apparently think differently. No one in our house is a great turkey fan although now I think of it, at a Christmas party recently at the Inn on the Prom in St Annes, a local hotel, I did choose the turkey roast as my main meal, and very nice it was too.

One thing I do not like is fish. Well, let me clarify that, I don’t like fishy fish. I quite like fish and chips, usually deep-fried cod because it doesn’t really taste that fishy. I’ve had a hake dish before now. Occasionally, very occasionally I have eaten mussels. They are not my cup of tea but sometimes I can eat a few especially with some strong sauce, something garlicky or spicy to drown out the fishiness.

Liz and daughter number 2 who is dining with us on Christmas Day like fish and they seem to favour something like smoked salmon for a starter. Yuk! Not for me please. Another idea was prawn cocktail. I have to say I’m not a great prawn lover either. I have eaten prawn cocktail before now, though I must say it’s not my dish of choice. What would I choose for myself then? Well, a nice pâté might be nice but some crusty fresh bread would be vital for that. Perhaps a nice tomato or even minestrone soup, yes that would be nice.

Many years ago the two dishes I first cooked for myself as a schoolboy were boiled eggs (I do love my eggs!) and tomato soup. By ‘make’ I mean I opened the can and warmed up the soup on the hob so no great talent required there but I have loved tomato soup ever since and today it’s one of those comfort foods for me. If I’m ever feeling low or under the weather, a nice bowl of tomato soup just does it for me.

Boiled eggs are the first things I can claim to have actually cooked. If the eggs come from the fridge, warm them gently in some warm water before cooking. The perfect timing for me is 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Serve with lightly toasted fresh bread and you have a wonderful snack or breakfast.

Back to the main course and a great favourite for me would be roast gammon. That apparently is off the menu because we will be having that when Liz’s French family come visiting just prior to Christmas with gammon leftovers also being served on Boxing day when daughter number 1 comes for dinner. I did mention roast beef but that suggestion was frowned upon. Goose and duck were also mentioned but they are two meats that just don’t do it for me. Roast chicken? OK with me but I’m in a minority there. That of course brings us back to . . turkey. Oh well, I may have to bow to a majority decision and perhaps suffer one or two slices of duck with some extra roast potatoes.

Whatever the roast of your choice some important additions are vital to your christmas dinner. Roast potatoes for instance. Personally I don’t like crispy ones. I like them soft and cooked in the roast beef juices. If not serving roast beef then goose fat is good for your roasties, apparently. Brussels sprouts are usually mandatory for a christmas dinner and the other day I saw them made on one of those TV cookery programmes but instead of boiling them, the TV chef cut them in half, gave them ample salt and pepper and roasted them. I tried them myself a while back in one of my rare forays into the kitchen and I have to say they were much nicer roasted than boiled. Carrot and turnip is another welcome addition for me. I’m not a great fan of mashed potatoes but I do like my mash rustic; mashed and served with butter is perfect although I have seen TV chefs mash potatoes into almost a puree and throw in butter and cream! Not in my mash, please.

I know that Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served with beef but I’ll be hoping for a portion of Yorkshires on Christmas day too. I recently produced a perfect Yorkshire pudding but my second attempt was a disaster as was my third. At least Liz will be in charge of the kitchen on Christmas day so looking forward to a veritable feast!

Now for Christmas day dessert we will be having Liz’s wonderful low sugar cheesecake. It is absolutely fabulous and we all look forward to having a slice. Another element is the cheese course. Here’s a question though, do the French have cheese before or after their sweet? I’ll have to make a few enquiries before the French contingent arrive because personally, I like to finish with some cheese, some English Cheddar, a little French Brie and perhaps a slice of Stilton to liven things up. A glass of red, some fresh bread or crackers, what could be nicer!

One last element of dining over the Christmas period is perhaps something that gets easily forgotten. the humble sandwich. Now I don’t much care for turkey sandwiches but the great thing about gammon is that when cooked, it becomes ham, and some freshly sliced ham slapped on some fresh bread is just perfect for relaxing with a late night glass of port, perhaps even a mince pie and my favourite Christmas film, A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes there are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, (73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw recently.)

A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge. According to my TV guide they are all available in the UK over the holiday period. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

Best wishes and have a lovely Christmas.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Second Hand DVDs and don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond Films!

I write a lot of posts about second hand books which I am always buying but I do also get hold of a lot of second hand DVDs so its perhaps only fair I write something about those for a change.

James Bond.

Most of my James Bond DVDs, were bought either reduced or at second hand shops and the greater part of my collection was from an Ebay job lot of Bond films. Sadly the job lot contained all of Roger Moore’s Bond films which must surely rank as the worst films in the series. (Please don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!) My brother, a great fan of classic movies actually likes the Roger Moore Bond films (Thought I said don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!) so happily I was able to just pass those over to him. In a way I’m not sure why I bought any of the Bond films on DVD because they are always being shown on TV and the great thing is that if I come home from work and a Bond film has already started, I’ve seen them all so often that I know them off by heart so I can just get a brew on and settle down to watch the remainder of the film.

Sex and The City.

Recently I came across a box set of the entire Sex and the City TV series in a Lytham charity shop. All the TV seasons in one big plastic box. Great, I thought when I saw them. I already have the individual box sets but now I can keep this giant set near the TV and pop the discs into the DVD player whenever I like. The price tag was a paltry £2.50 and so one day I settled down to watch them planning to take in, one DVD at a time, the entire series.

DVD 1 was popped into the player but what had we here? This was DVD2! Back to the DVD box and I see that DVD2 was in position one but position 2 was empty! How had I not spotted that the first DVD of the entire series was missing? What the heck, my whisky and dry was all ready, so was my cheese sandwich so I had no choice but to start with DVD2. Carrie was already involved with Mr Big, my favourite character of the series by DVD2. Just in case you have never seen Sex and the City, Mr Big is not only the coolest guy ever but actually takes cool to new unexplored heights. Carrie and Big are finished by the end of series 1 but by series 2 they were back together again. Towards the end of series 2 Carrie is asking Big about their summer holiday arrangements but Big reveals he may be off to start work on a new job in Paris. Carrie is stunned and eventually they agree to go their separate ways and Big goes off, we assume to Paris.

A few episodes later, Carrie and the girls are spending time in the Hamptons -now, I’m not sure exactly what the Hamptons are but I guess they are some kind of resort or country area near to New York. Come to think of it, despite all the films I have seen set in New York I sometimes wonder about New York geography. Is New York in Manhattan or is Manhattan in New York? Anyway, at a party in the Hamptons, Carrie bumps into -Mr Big! Apparently the Paris job fell through and there is Mr Big -with new girlfriend, Natasha! Carrie is not amused!

Now the great thing about Sex and the City is that all these relationship issues roll happily along with a touch of comedy, and a great deal of sharp and finely tuned observations about people, relationships and, of course, sex. I’ve not yet reached series 3 but I’ve seen it before, years ago when it was first broadcast and I’m pretty certain Carrie gets involved with Aiden, another very cool dude with a coolness of a different category to Mr Big. Aiden is a woodworker, a beer drinker and an outdoor sort of guy. Carrie cheats on him with Mr Big if I remember correctly but season 4 is really where this whole series reaches its zenith. Carrie gets back with Aiden and in one episode he takes her for a trip to his log cabin in the country (might even be in the Hamptons but I’m not certain.) Mr Big is having his own relationship problems and wants to talk to Carrie about it and a drunken Big is forced to spend the night in Aiden’s log cabin. Tensions erupt in the morning when Big and Aiden have a mud fight after a rainstorm but by the end of the episode they are best buddies.

The Maltese Falcon.

I’ve had a copy of this video for a while but recently a dispute occurred between me and my brother. He borrowed my copy and claims he returned it. As it is now not to be found I claimed that the version that resides at his place must be mine. No he says, that is his copy. Why then did he borrow mine in the first place? I rest my case you honour! Anyway, rather than argue further I spotted a cheap version on Ebay, available for 99 pence and snapped it up.

According to that mine of information Wikipedia, The Maltese Falcon has been recognised as the very first major film noir. It was written and directed by John Huston and based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Humphrey Bogart stars as Private Eye Sam Spade who tries to unravel the mystery of his partner’s murder and along the way comes across another mystery, that of the jewelled figure of a bird known as the Maltese Falcon. A number of people are after the bird, Joel Cairo played by Peter Lorre, Kasper Gutman played by the unforgettable Sidney Greenstreet and Brigid O’Shaugnessy played by Mary Astor who makes the mistake of thinking that Sam Spade is corruptable.

It’s hard to put the finger on my favourite scene but one of them is this exchange between Bogart and Greenstreet:

Gutman: We begin well, sir. I distrust a man who says “when”. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much, it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does. Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding. [They drink.] You’re a close-mouthed man?

Spade: No, I like to talk.

Gutman: Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice. Now, sir, we’ll talk if you like. I’ll tell you right out – I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

Spade: Swell. Will we talk about the black bird?

Gutman: [chuckling] You’re the man for me, sir. No beating about the bush, right to the point. Let’s talk about the black bird, by all means.

The Shape of Water.

Now, there are those who seem to think I only ever look at black and white classic movies. Not so, I like modern films too and just to prove it I picked up the Shape of Water, again for a few pounds on Ebay. You may remember that the film won the Oscar for Best Film at this year’s awards and it looked pretty interesting in the various clips I have seen. Everything I had heard about the film was positive but the first warning sign was the extensive availability of DVDs of the film on Ebay and the second was the rather low prices. Anyway, I got my DVD and watched it and how this film won an Oscar I really do not know. Yes it is well acted. The photography was excellent although everything is presented in a sort of greenish hue that the director perhaps feels enshrouded late fifties and early sixties America. However the content just didn’t do it for me. It’s about a young mute woman cleaner in a top secret government installation who falls in love with a strange creature, half man, half fish, that is held captive there. She and her father rescue the fish man and take him back to their apartment high over a cinema and install the creature in the bath.

The Guardian said this about the film: Guillermo del Toro’s escapist fantasy-romance The Shape of Water was the biggest winner, (at the Oscars) the story of a young woman’s love for a captured sea creature — with best picture and best director, setting the official seal of approval on what is, by any measure, a beautifully made movie to which audiences have responded with distinctively sensual delight.

Don’t believe a word of it, the fact is the Shape of Water is a dismal weird film and my copy will soon be available once again on Ebay. It was so bad it even made me hunger for one of Roger Moore’s Bond Films. (Don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!)


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or to buy.

The Cruel Sea

When I was writing my post ‘The Book of the Film or the Film of the Book’ a while ago, I did consider including ‘The Cruel Sea’ as not only is it one of my favourite films, it is a pretty good book too. I didn’t include it because I couldn’t find my copy of the book, which I hadn’t read for years and also I hadn’t seen the film for years either.

In one of those odd coincidences that always happen when I set my mind on a subject and leave ideas churning over in the upstairs room in my head, I was scouring through a charity shop in St Annes when I came across the DVD of the film. It was one of those free newspaper DVDs that seem to cost anything from a pound upwards at a car boot sale but was happily on sale here for a paltry 30 pence.

After a busy late shift at work I settled down with a glass of red in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other, compulsory on these occasions of course, and began watching.

The film starts off at the beginning of World War 2 when the Jack Hawkins character is at the builder’s yard helping with the fixing up of his new escort ship, Compass Rose. His officers begin to arrive, many of whom are easily recognisable as stalwarts of the 40’s and 50’s British film industry: Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliot, and Stanley Baker and later in the film Virginia McKenna appears as an officer in the WRNS.

The cast and characters are therefore introduced and then the ship goes off for its sea trials and crew training and soon the Compass Rose is escorting its first convoy. Nothing much happens at first as this is the early part of the war but when the Nazis over run France and the ports of northern France come available to the enemy, many U-Boats converge on the convoys and a great deal of merchant ships, along with the supplies so desperately needed by Britain, are lost.

The boredom of those early dull convoys contrasts sharply with the terror and mayhem waged by the U-boats later on. The film reveals the desperate tragedy of abandoning ship in the middle of the Atlantic, the oil and grease, not to mention the cold, are terrible. Many escort vessels could not stop for survivors as they would become easy prey to the unseen U-Boats, though some did, others returning later in the light of day as the attacks usually came at night.

Leave was a great relief for the naval crews. On one trip back to England the film shows the crew at home, some enjoying some home comforts, others struggling with failing marriages, a situation made worse by the war. One crewmate takes his friend the engineer home to meet his sister. On a later voyage the engineer tells his mate how he has fallen for the sister and plans to ask her to marry him. Later, the Compass Rose is sunk by a torpedo and as the survivors struggle to stay alive in the cold Atlantic many succumb to their injuries. As they drift in the oily water the soundtrack replays echos of their recent dialogue, a marriage proposals hangs in the air over the groom who will never wed and a petty argument haunts the body of the unhappily married officer. Happily, some survive till daylight when a destroyer returns to rescue them.

It must have been difficult living during the war, trying to get on with your own personal life when everything was wrapped up in the war effort. Manchester was a target for enemy bombers because of its industrial strength and also because of its airport at Ringway, now Manchester International Airport. My mother used to tell me stories of air raid shelters and late night cocoa when the air raid warnings were on and everyone trooped into the shelter. Everyone except my granddad who always said ‘If I’m going to die, I’ll die in my bed!’ She told and still tells stories of gas masks, bomb craters and how you could tell the differing sounds of German and British aircraft.

I’ve often wondered what happened if your house was bombed? Were you given new housing? What happened to your mortgage? Did you still have to pay it? Imagine being stuck with a 25 year mortgage and a house that was just a pile of rubble.

One other observation about films in the 40’s and 50’s: People seemed to have a different pattern of speech back then, a different and faster rhythm than today with clearer and more precise diction. Is that the case or is that just the way the actors and actresses of the time were taught to speak. Speech today seems slower and less precise and sprinkled with regular use of words like ‘awesome’!

Back to the Cruel Sea and Captain Ericson alias Jack Hawkins is given another ship which he captains until the end of the war. The producer, Sir Michael Balcon said that Hawkins was always the first choice for the Cruel Sea, even going so far as to say that without Hawkins he wouldn’t have made the film. The finished picture was the hit British film of 1953.

Hawkins was the epitome of the trustworthy British authority figure. In his obituary one writer wrote that Hawkins ‘exemplified for many cinemagoers the stiff upper lip tradition prevalent in post war British films. His craggy looks and authoritative bearing were used to good effect whatever branch of the services he represented.’

Hawkins himself was a three pack a day smoker and later became ill with throat cancer. In 1966 his entire larynx was removed however he still appeared in films with his dialogue dubbed by either Charles Gray or Robert Rietti. He died in 1973.

Just as I was writing this post, one thought came back to me about the book of the Cruel Sea. It was written by Nicholas Montsarrat and on the last page, when the war is over, the captain who has always hated his safety vest, hurls it into the sea. The vest sank like a stone!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

The Film of the Book or the Book of the Film (Part 2)

It’s always  a bitter-sweet experience when someone decides to make your favourite book into a film. It doesn’t always work out because maybe it was a big, thick, long book and they have cut out your favourite bit, or perhaps the cast wasn’t the one you imagined. It’s usually just the same in reverse. You see a great film and in the credits it says based on the book by so and so, then you rush out and get the book and it turns out to be a little disappointing. Sometimes it’s even better than the film!
You can read the Film of the Book part 1 by clicking here. Meanwhile, here are a few more of my film/book experiences.

Rebecca (the film)

Rebecca was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1940. Laurence Olivier plays Max De Winter and Joan Fontaine is particularly good as the shy, unworldly new wife of the rather grand Max De Winter.

Max and his new wife, who is never named in the novel as she is also the narrator, meet in the south of France, marry and return to Max’s grand country house Manderley, in Cornwall. There they settle into country life rather uneasily, as lurking always in the background is the spectre of Max’s late wife Rebecca who died in a boating accident.

Also lurking in the background is the housekeeper of Manderley, Mrs Danvers. She was devoted to Rebecca and her presence seems to cloak the house in a sinister gloom. George Sanders plays his usual suave smooth talking self; in this film he is the apparent lover to the late Rebecca. A number of incidents occur making the new wife believe her husband resents her and prefers Rebecca. Nothing could be further from the truth as we find out when Rebecca’s body is discovered in the cabin of her sunken boat just off the coast. Max reveals he had an argument with Rebecca, struck her and she fell, hitting her head on some heavy fishing tackle. He carried her dead body to her boat, took to sea and scuttled the small vessel, creating the lie of her death at sea. Now the body has come to light, George Sanders’ character comes forward with a letter from Rebecca, inviting him to visit on the day of her death and with this he decides to blackmail De Winter as this shows she could not have contemplated suicide.

There is a nice twist at the end which I won’t give away but Rebecca is a wonderful film, well worth looking out for on one of the many movie channels available these days.

One disappointing aspect of the film was the rather cheap model of Manderley used at the beginning and end of the film. If I was Hitchcock I would have been tempted to revisit the film in the 1960’s and add some better model effects.

Rebecca (the book) by Daphne Du Maurier

The book is written in the first person by the unnamed new wife of Max De Winter. It’s a very good read indeed and I enjoyed it very much, so much so I had to take it out of my work’s bag (I’d been reading at work during my dinner breaks) and take it into the garden on a lovely sunny day as I was so keen to get to the end. It is very similar to the film although in the book De Winter actually shoots his wife unlike the film where De Winter strikes her and she falls and hits her head. The ending is also rather abrupt but an excellent read, well worth picking up if you see a copy for sale.

Serpico (the film)

Al Pacino stars in the true story of Serpico, a New York City cop who tried to fight the culture of bribery and corruption in the NYPD in the 60’s and early 70’s. This 1973 film is directed by Sidney Lumet and is shot in a gritty natural style. It starts with Serpico being shot in the face and then on his way to hospital it flashes back to tell the story of rookie cop Frank Serpico and his graduation to detective and his refusal to take bribes. It is shot and acted in a very natural documentary style and the film portrays Serpico’s ongoing disappointment with his superiors and those he trusts to look into the situation very well indeed. A brilliant example of 70’s moviemaking at its best.

Serpico (the book) by Peter Maas

It’s a long while since I read the book and despite a lengthy search I couldn’t get my hands on it for a read through for this post. It was a fascinating read as I remember, reading more like a work of fiction than the true story it really was.

Serpico (the DVD)

Since I couldn’t say much about the book I just want to throw in a quick comment about the DVD. One thing I love about DVDs are those special versions with extended features, documentaries and so on. On the DVD of Serpico there is an interview with the producer Dino De Laurentiis where he tries to explain the character of Serpico this way; He and Serpico go to a screening of a film in New York. They are checking out possible directors or something, anyway, the theatre is empty and ignoring the no smoking sign, De Laurentiis decides to light up. ‘Wait a minute’ says Serpico, ‘you can’t smoke in here.’ De Laurentiis replies ‘what does it matter? There is no one here but us.’

Serpico points to the no smoking sign and replies ‘look, you just can’t smoke here’ and makes the producer put out his cigarette. That, says Dino on the DVD, was when he began to understand what Serpico was about. There were no grey areas with him, everything was black and white.

The Big Sleep (the book) by Raymond Chandler 

The Big Sleep, which refers to death in American gangster speak was the first of Raymond Chandler’s novels to feature his famous detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe was described by one reviewer as ‘a 20th-century knight who treads the mean streets of Hollywood and Santa Monica, and who also visits the houses of the stinking rich, with their English butlers, corrosive secrets and sinister vices.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. In the Big Sleep Marlowe is summoned to the house of General Sternwood whose daughter is being blackmailed by a seedy bookseller.

Sternwood, a crippled old man spends his time in a heated conservatory and seems to draw strength from the overwhelming heat. He engages Marlowe who sets off on a trail of blackmail and murder. I have to say the film rather confused me and it was only after reading the novel that I began to understand some of the intricacies of the plot.

The Big Sleep (the film)

Director Howard Hawks was also aware of the complexity of the novel. He once asked Raymond Chandler who had shot the chauffeur. Chandler replied that he had no idea.

The movie version from 1946 stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and I used to think that this was the film where Bogart and Bacall met although in fact it was actually another movie, ‘To Have and Have Not‘, also directed by Howard Hawks. By the time of ‘The Big Sleep’ their romance was in full swing. Later Bogart left his wife Mayo and he and Bacall were free to marry.

The opening of the film where Bogart meets the general is brilliant. The wayward daughter remarks he is not very tall. ‘I try to be’ Bogart replies. Later, the other daughter played by Bacall says she doesn’t like Bogart’s manners. He replies ‘I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.’

My advice, get yourself the DVD, pour yourself a large glass of red, press play and relax and enjoy.

The Silence of the Lambs (the Film)

The film was released in 1991 and it’s one of those films that seemed to naturally self-publicise itself, one of those word of mouth films that everyone at the time was talking about. It’s a gruesome film in parts and not really my usual sort of film but what is appealing is the slow relentless process the FBI makes to track down the killer and the procedures and techniques they use. Jodie Foster plays FBI trainee Clarice Starling. She is sent by the head of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit to interview captured serial killer Hannibal Lector played by Anthony Hopkins, in the hope he might give some clue or insight into helping with the capture of a new serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

Hopkins gives a chilling portrayal of the psychotic serial killer and Jodie Foster and the other principals were given much acclaim for their performances. The film was only the third to win Oscars in the top 5 categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is perhaps the only horror film ever to win the best picture award.

The Silence of the Lambs (the Book) by Thomas Harris

The book, like the film, focusses on the FBI and their attempts to trace the killer known as Buffalo Bill. Trainee agent Clarice Starling builds up a relationship with imprisoned murderer Doctor Hannibal Lector where Lector dribbles out bits of information in exchange for personal details about Clarice herself. Clarice, the vulnerable young FBI agent is a sort of counterpoint to the evil Murderer Dr Lector.

The book like the film is more of a horror story than a detective novel. I felt drawn to the passages that were chilling and gruesome in a strange way, almost like when a spider appears and I’m compelled to watch it even though I hate spiders. The relationship between Lector and Starling is intriguing and is really more of a focus than the capture of the Buffalo Bill and I did find myself wondering whether Lector might want to murder Clarice or perhaps his interest in her is something different.

I read the follow up book, Hannibal, expecting more of the same but it was even more gruesome and had a strange implausible ending. Since then I’ve steered clear of Mr Harris’ books but Silence is a great read.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.