Terence Rattigan and my Movie Connections.

terence RattiganIt’s always a good feeling when you watch a movie you have really enjoyed. If you are like me then you will usually take a scan through the credits and look for familiar names. Sometimes you will see one that rings a bell; Hey, that director is the same guy who directed one of your real favourites or, that screen writer is the same writer who wrote another movie you enjoyed. That’s what I call a movie connection.

The Winslow Boy is one of my favourite old movies. It was written by Terence Rattigan and adapted from his own play. The original starred Robert Donat (who hailed from Withington in Manchester) playing the part of Sir Robert Morton and was directed by Antony Asquith. You may be more familiar with the recent version starring Jeremy Northam and Nigel Hawthorne which, all things considered, wasn’t a bad film. Anyway, the first time I saw the original movie I made a mental note of Terence Rattigan for future reference.

Here’s another movie: The VIPs, a film about various characters delayed at London Airport due to weather. It’s a lovely movie with great performances by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret Rutherford. It was a movie I really enjoyed so I checked the credits and what did I find? Screenplay by Terence Rattigan. Directed by Anthony Asquith. Yes, I thought, that rings a bell.

A great Sunday afternoon film is The Yellow Rolls Royce. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it is three separate stories, all connected by the Yellow Rolls Royce. My favourite episode is one starring Shirley Maclaine. She is involved with gangster George C Scott and they are on holiday in Italy. When her gangster lover has to return to New York to sort out ‘some business,’ Shirley is left alone with young Italian Alain Delon. She falls in love with him but realises that when George returns, her new lover’s life expectancy will be very short. So, she tells him she doesn’t love him at all and returns to the USA with gangster George. Although he doesn’t realise it, Shirley has saved Alain’s life. As I watched the credits pass by, there were those names again, Anthony Asquith and Terence Rattigan.

rattiganAsquith was the son of the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. He was a great friend of Terence Rattigan and they collaborated on 10 films together but it’s Rattigan I want to write about here. Who who was he? Well, he was a playwright who wrote a number of west end hits, many of which were made into films. You may recognise some from this list; The Way to the Stars,  The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, The Price and the Showgirl, Separate Tables, The Sound Barrier and the Yellow Rolls Royce.
Wikipedia says Rattigan was a ‘troubled homosexual, who saw himself as an outsider, and that his plays ‘confronted issues of sexual frustration, failed relationships and adultery.’

He was born in 1911, had quite a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harrow. His first play was ‘French Without Tears’ about a crammer where English students go to learn French. Rattigan joined the Royal Air force at the outbreak of the Second World War and became an air gunner. He used his experiences to write a play called ‘Flare Path’ which eventually became the movie ‘The Way to the Stars’, also directed by Asquith, the DVD version of which resides happily on my DVD shelf.

Terrance RattiganRobert Donat relished the role of Sir Robert Morton in the Winslow Boy. Morton is an MP cum barrister who takes the British Admiralty to court over the sacking of Cadet Winslow. In my favourite scene, Sir Robert Morton questions Ronnie Winslow about the incident in question, that of the theft of a postal order. The questioning goes fairly gently until Sir Robert ups the ante when Ronnie, the Winslow Boy himself, mentions talking to another boy;

RONNIE I said, “Come down to the Post Office with me. I’m going to
cash a postal order.”

SIR ROBERT ‘Cash’ a postal order?

RONNIE I mean ‘get’.

SIR ROBERT You said ‘cash’. Why did you say ‘cash’ if you meant ‘get’?

RONNIE I don’t know.

SIR ROBERT I suggest ‘cash’ was the truth.

RONNIE No, no. It wasn’t, really. You’re muddling me.

SIR ROBERT You seem easily muddled. How many other lies have you told?

RONNIE None. Really, I haven’t.

SIR ROBERT I suggest your whole testimony is a lie.

RONNIE No, it’s the truth.

SIR ROBERT I suggest there is barely one single word of truth in anything you’ve said either to me or to the Judge Advocate or to the Commander. I suggest that you broke into Elliot’s locker, that you stole the postal order for five shillings belonging to Elliot, that you cashed it by means of forging his name.

RONNIE I didn’t. I didn’t.

SIR ROBERT
I suggest that by continuing to deny your guilt you’re causing great hardship to your own family and considerable annoyance to high and important persons in this country.

CATHERINE
That is a disgraceful thing to say.

SIR ROBERT
I suggest that the time has at last come for you to undo some of the misery you have caused by confessing to us all now that you are a forger, a liar, and a thief!

CATHERINE
How dare you!

RONNIE
I’m not. I’m not. I didn’t do it.

It looks like everything is all over then Sir Robert asks for all the available papers to be sent to him. ‘Is that necessary now?’ asks someone.

‘Of course’, replies Morton. ‘The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief.’

There is also a rather subtle flirtation between Catherine, Ronnie Winslow’s elder sister and Sir Robert. Catherine comments ‘how little you know about women’ to Sir Robert after an exchange between the two. He later replies to her when she doubts she will see him again, ‘How little you know about men, Miss Winslow!’

The Winslow Boy is a delightful film which captures perfectly that ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life in the early part of the twentieth century. Look out for excellent supporting performances from Jack Watling and Kathleen Harrison as well as those of the feature players, Robert Donat and Margaret Leighton. You may have to search ebay for the DVD version as the movie is not one of those we see often on terrestrial TV.

Remember, don’t forget to check the credits on a film. You may find a lot of familiar names on the movies you love!


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The Remainder of the day: Three Movie books

Perhaps you won’t see straight away what I did there in that title. If I go on to say I’m going to talk about remainder books then you might start to get the picture. I’ve spoken before in this blog about my passion for books, especially second hand books. I also have quite a few books that should have been very expensive but were greatly reduced in price. Why? Because they were remainder books. So what exactly are remainder books? Well, they are copies of a book left over after a print run which are then sold off quickly at a cheap price. Many stores like the Works specialise in these types of books. There is a Works store in the Arndale Centre in Manchester where you will find me flipping through numerous books when I have any free time, looking to nail myself a bargain. Here are three ‘remaindered’ books in my collection, all about movie directors.

Woody Allen.

Woody Allen
Now I’ve kept the price on this book so you can see what a big saving I’ve made: A hefty fifteen pounds and a penny and in return for my £9.99 I get a big full colour hard back book which itemises all Woody’s movies all the way from ‘What’s New Pussycat’ to his 2015 offering ‘Irrational Man’. Now, I have to say  that the aforementioned ‘What’s New Pussycat’ is one of my favourites of Woody’s movies although in the book it doesn’t get such a great review. Pity because it’s a great sixties classic. You can read more about Woody Allen in one of my previous posts.

David Lean
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Illustrated with over 400 pictures this is a lovely book to have, detailing the life and work of director Sir David Lean and written by his widow Lady Sandra Lean. David Lean is probably best remembered for his big screen epics like Laurence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Bridge on the River Kwai. He started out as a teaboy with Gaumont Studios in London, later became a film editor and then moved on to become a director. He co-directed ‘In Which We Serve’ with Noel Coward although he later said Coward soon became bored with directing and left the whole thing to Lean. He would never share the directing credit again although his next three movies were adaptations of work by Noel Coward. Surprisingly, he only directed seventeen movies; I always thought his list of credits would be a lot longer. He won two best director Oscars and as a filmaker he inspired many directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese. He died in 1991 from throat cancer.

Billy Wilder
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All three of the books here are big picture books with many behind the scenes photographs. If you are like me and love to hear about how movies are made then you will love all these books. Billy Wilder was an Austrian born filmmaker who fled from Berlin and the Nazis in the early 1930s, moving first to Paris and then later to Hollywood. Wilder made some classic films like ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘Sabrina.’ The cover picture you can see above shows Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like it Hot’ made by Wilder in 1959. It’s a great movie but mostly famous for the multiple retakes required by Marilyn. It took 47 takes for Wilder to get a shot in the can where all Marilyn had to say, ‘It’s me, Sugar!’

Billy Wilder died in 2002 at the age of 95.

Just to finish off, here’s my favourite Billy Wilder story and it goes like this : In his later years he wanted, as usual, to make a movie. He approached a studio and was invited in to make his pitch, as they call it in the movie world. The executive who met with Billy was a young man. He said to Billy, “I’m not familiar with your work, could you tell me about some of your films?”

Wilder replied, “Of course; but you first!”


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6 Great Kitchen Sink Dramas

So what exactly is a kitchen sink drama? If you’ve read through the pages on my site that deal with my book ‘Floating In Space,’ you’ll know that this is a phrase I use to describe my book. When I first added Floating In Space to Amazon through the Amazon sister site Createspace I came to a point where I had to define the genre of the book. If you’ve written something that falls easily into a particular niche then that’s not a big deal. Things like romance, thrillers, science fiction, and YA (young adult) are pretty easily definable but my novel is something on the lines of working class fiction from the sixties; books like A Kind of Loving, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alfie and Billy Liar. All of those works were made into films and three of them, Billy Liar, Alfie and A Taste of Honey were also stage plays but what exactly is ‘Kitchen sink drama’?

Wikipedia describes it as a British Cultural movement that developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and enveloped the theatre, art, literature, television and film. It identifies the John Osborne play ‘Look Back in Anger’ as being the start of the movement and afterwards, many people who identified with the movement were known as ‘Angry Young Men.’ Osborne’s play was a sort of backlash against the theatre of Noel Coward and Terrence Rattigan and represented a move away from polite drawing rooms into council house back rooms.

Richard Burton starred in ‘Look Back in Anger’ and as much as I love the richness of his voice, his portrayal of the leading character of Jimmy Porter hardly represents the working class despite Burton’s own personal origins in a Welsh mining village. A much more representative working class voice, certainly for the North West of England is the character of Arthur Seaton played convincingly by Salford actor Albert Finney in the movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. 1960

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in working class Nottingham. Arthur Seaton is a rebellious factory worker who works hard in the factory by day, but at the weekend he spends his money in the pubs and clubs of the town. He is involved with a married woman but starts to lose interest when he meets a single girl called Doreen and begins a relationship with her. My favourite line from the book and the movie is this: “I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am. “

A Taste of Honey. 1961

Written as a play by Shelagh Delaney when she was only eighteen, the work was first performed at Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop in 1958. The movie version opened in 1961 adapted by Delaney herself and directed by Tony Richardson, who incidentally also directed the film version of ‘Look Back in Anger.’ The movie features outstanding performances by Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham.

Alfie. 1966

Alfie was directed by Lewis Gilbert who directed some of the earlier Bond films. The script was produced by Bill Naughton and adapted from his own book and play. Alfie is a fascinating film on many levels. It’s a peek back at the swinging sixties; it explores the elements of comedy versus drama, something I’ve always loved and which I looked at recently in a post about the TV show MASH. Once again it’s about the working class and features great performances from all the principal and supporting actors. One fabulous feature is how Alfie talks directly to the camera and sometimes even says things that directly contradict something he is doing or saying to another character. In the opening sequence Michael Caine as Alfie addresses the audience and tells them not to expect any titles. There are none, except for the film title itself and the closing credits feature photos of the cast and crew. Many actors turned down the chance to play Alfie on film, including Caine’s then flat mate Terence Stamp who played the part on Broadway. Laurence Harvey, James Booth and Richard Harris all turned down the role, and Alfie became a breakthrough movie for Michael Caine. My favourite line from the film comes right at the end when Alfie is reflecting about his life: “What have I got? Really? Some money in my pocket. Some nice threads, fancy car at my disposal, and I’m single. Yeah… unattached, free as a bird… I don’t depend on nobody. Nobody depends on me. My life’s my own. But I don’t have peace of mind. And if you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing. So… So what’s the answer? That’s what I keep asking myself. What’s it all about? You know what I mean? “

Billy Liar. 1963

Billy Liar is based on the book by Keith Waterhouse and was directed by John Schlessinger. Tom Courtney played the title role and many faces familiar to TV viewers appear in the cast such as Wilfred Pickles, Rodney Bewes, and Leonard Rossiter. Billy has an imaginary world in which he plays out many daydreams and fantasies. His ambition though is to become a comedy scriptwriter and his friend Liz played by Julie Christie offers to go with him to London. In the final scenes however, Billy loses his nerve and contrives to miss his train, something that Liz has foreseen and has conveniently left his suitcase on the platform for him.

A Kind of Loving. 1962

This is another 60’s classic directed by John Schelssinger. Adapted from the book by Stan Barstow (one of my all time favourite books) with a script by Keith Waterhouse (who wrote Billy Liar) and Wallis Hall. The story is a very simple one; Vic Brown (Alan Bates)  is a draughtsman in a Manchester factory and he gets involved with secretary called Ingrid played by June Ritchie. When Vic learns Ingrid is pregnant, he does the ‘proper’ thing for the 1960s and offers to marry her. Sounds simple but this is a complex and fascinating film and looks at the subtleties of relationships and how the characters make their way through a series of difficult choices. For a northerner like me, it’s also nice to see places I recognise on film. St Annes On Sea looks a little grim, or did do in the 1960’s. Today it’s a lovely place to live.

Spring and Port Wine. 1969

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Hollywood movie star James Mason, famous for roles like the drunken movie star in A Star is Born and the suave villain in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, left Hollywood in 1963, settled in Switzerland and embarked on a more transatlantic career. One of those projects was Spring and Port Wine. The movie is set in Bolton and is about factory worker Rafe Crompton and his family. His daughter played by Susan George is acting strangely and Rafe struggles to dominate her, his other daughter played by Hannah Gordon and his sons, Rodney Bewes and Len Jones. It later transpires the Susan George character may be pregnant and the family rally round to help her.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a clip on you tube but the film poster is over to the right.

The Family Way 1966

The Family Way is one of my very favourite films and like Spring and Port Wine above, features a classic movie actor, John Mills, in a very different role. Saying that, Mills’ film career was diverse to say the least and in this movie he plays Ezra Fitton whose son has just married Jenny, played by Mills’ real life daughter, Hayley. Various problems plague the newly weds, in particular a holiday that never happens due to a travel agent absconding with their funds. Hints are made during the film that Ezra’s son may not even be his son after all. When the truth dawns on Ezra his son asks what is wrong and Ezra replies with the most memorable line in the film; “It’s life lad. Sometimes it’ll make you laugh and sometimes it’ll make you bloody cry!” Time and time again, and I don’t know if you have ever found the same thing, but certain movies I love always seem to have a common denominator. In this case Spring and Port Wine, The Family Way, and Alfie were all penned by the same author, Bill Naughton.


One final kitchen sink drama: ‘Floating In Space’ by Steve Higgins. Click the icon below to go to my Amazon page or check out the links at the top of the page.

Second Hand Books and The World of Movie Making

Million Dollar Movie by Michael Powell.

poweelbookI really do love books, especially second hand books. I think that what is so wonderful about a second hand book is that the book has told its story before to someone else, and now if you have just bought it, its going to tell it’s story to you. I spend a lot of time browsing in book shops, both physically in actual shops or on-line in virtual book stores. The thing about on-line book stores is that you have to have a starting point, it’s  no fun browsing through lists of books so I tend to browse on-line only when there is a particular book I want. In an actual book store I scan through the various sections and although I tend to linger on biographies and books about film, anything can catch my eye. A while ago I was reading a book by movie director Michael Powell called ‘A Life in Movies.’ It was a pretty thick book and took a fair old while to read and when I got the end there didn’t seem to be any indication there was another volume. Of course, Powell was quite old when he wrote his autobiography, perhaps he thought that there wouldn’t be time for another book. Well, I’m happy to say he did write another volume and this is it, Million Dollar Movie. Powell continues the story of his life in his usual random fashion, jumping to things out of context and out of sequence. Just because he happens to visiting Hollywood for instance, he will go on to talk about Hollywood and movie people he knows there and so on. Powell made some great movies alongside collaborator Emeric Pressburger but his career stalled when he made a shocking film called Peeping Tom about a disturbed cameraman who murders his subjects and films them as he does so. Audiences were shocked and Powell’s directing career ended, although in later years fellow directors like Martin Scorcese praised the film as a classic. Liz bought me this book as a gift and the copy she tracked down comes from Austin Public library in Texas in the United States. Provenance is a word they use in the antiques business; It’s to do with the background of an item, and that is what makes this copy so wonderful; How it has come so far, from the USA to England, just so I can sit back and enjoy it.

Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven.

bringontheYou might be thinking, looking at the picture here: Couldn’t the author have found a better picture? Looking at the picture again I suppose that particular copy is just a little tatty. That’s because it’s my travel copy. I’ve got another copy, a much nicer version that resides in my bookcase that I browse through now and again. The reason I’ve got two versions is because my travel copy goes all over the place with me. If I’m travelling somewhere on the bus or train, that slightly tatty copy goes easily into my pocket or my bag because I can read it time and time again. Not only is it the best ever book written about the golden age of Hollywood, it’s also by far the most accessible and readable book on the subject ever.

Niven’s first book was his autobiography; ‘The Moon’s a Balloon.’ In it Niven told how he came over to Hollywood from the UK and made the incredible leap from movie extra to movie star. The title of this book comes from Hungarian director Michael Curtiz. When filming ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade’ Curtiz wanted a hundred riderless horses to come into shot so he boomed on his megaphone ‘Bring on the Empty Horses!’ Niven and fellow actor Errol Flynn collapsed into laughter and Niven filed away the phrase for later use. The book covers the Hollywood years from 1935 to 1960 and Niven paints vivid portraits of Hollywood itself and long vanished watering holes like the Brown Derby and Romanoffs. He looks at some of the stars he has known like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and Constance Bennett. Other chapters profile producers like Sam Goldwyn and many other famous Hollywood personalities of the time. All his stories are told with great affection and I particularly liked the portrait of Mike Romanoff, the restaurateur who tried to pass himself off, in a slightly tongue in cheek way, as a member of the Russian Romanov family. If ever I’m travelling and need something to read on the journey I’ll always have this copy on hand. It’s like an old wine that improves with age!


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TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu!

children-403582_1920I don’t know about you but there are certain things I hang on to in life. One of those things are my diaries. The other day, looking through my schoolboy diary from 1973 I noticed that one entry mentions that I watched a film called the Inspector with Stephen Boyd. It was a movie made in 1962 and it’s about a jewish girl trying to get into Palestine. It’s not a classic movie but I’ve always liked Stephen Boyd and he was rather good in movies like Fantastic Voyage where a mini submarine and her crew were shrunk to minute size and then injected into a man’s body. Have you ever seen The Inspector? I doubt very much if you have, in fact I can’t remember ever seeing that movie again on TV. There are plenty of movies I have seen, some of them over and over though, here are a few of them;

The Great Escape. Ok I love it, I really do but I know the script off by heart I’ve seen it that many times!

Great Expectations. David Lean’s cinematic version of Dicken’s novel. Great movie but I’m fed up of seeing it on Film 4!

The Man In The Iron Mask! Seen this so many times with Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan and of course it was re made in 1998 with Leonardo Di Caprio but what about showing the 1952 version with Louis Hayward? Now that is a movie I’d love to see again.

Goldfinger, or any of the Bond films. As much as I love James Bond 007, most of the films, especially the older ones, I have seen again and again so I need a break from them. Strangely, I have a few of my favourite Bonds on DVD. I don’t think I ever watch them but I’m so familiar with the Bonds that if I come home from work and one is on TV and I’ve missed the first thirty minutes – well, it doesn’t matter!

So who is it at the BBC or Channel 4 or Sky who decides what films we can see and why is it that some are shown over and over and some only get aired rarely? What happens in the world of the TV scheduler? I really hope those guys are reading this blog because there are movies out there I want to see and a whole bunch of ones, like those above that I am fed up of seeing! Anway, here are a few recommendations for any TV schedulers reading!

CBubblesCharlie Bubbles. This is a great film penned by northern writer Shelagh Delaney and it’s about a (surprise) northern writer played by Albert Finney who journeys back up north from London to see his son. It’s a well observed and fascinating film and for a northerner like me it’s great to see the Manchester of the 1960’s up there on the movie screen. Writer Shelagh Delaney shot to fame in the sixties when she wrote her play ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and had it accepted and performed by Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop. There’s a rather telling line in the movie when a waiter played by Joe Gladwin, (an actor familiar to UK TV audiences of the 70’s), asks Charlie, played by Finney, “are you still working or do you just do the writing?” Somehow I can imagine that line came from Delaney’s personal experience! Interestingly, this movie marked Albert Finney’s debut as a director. Have you seen the movie? I don’t think you have unless maybe you’ve sourced the DVD version.

In my large but slightly redundant VHS video box I’ve a copy of a wonderful film starring Alec Guinness called ‘Last Holiday’. Guinness plays a pleasant mild mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it. Have you seen it on TV? Well, not recently because the last time I have noticed it broadcast was in the 1980’s when I taped it with my trusty VHS video recorder. What happens to classic movies like this and why are they rarely seen on British TV? I wish I knew but I’d love to see this movie again.

Pygmalion Movie Poster

Pygmalion. You’ve probably seen the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle but I’d be surprised if you’ve seen this, the original, non-musical version, on TV. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. I’ve never seen this version on TV at all, in fact I picked up the movie on one those free newspaper DVDs. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it, a sort of 1950’s B picture. In fact this was shot in colour in 1964 and starred an actor called Paul Mantee who appears in many US TV series of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It pretty much follows the original story of Robinson Crusoe only it’s about an astronaut who crash lands on Mars. He thinks he’s had it but finds that certain rocks contain oxygen which is released when they are heated so he is able to replenish his oxygen supplies. He even finds an alien ‘Friday’ on Mars who has escaped from an alien slave camp. Sounds a little far-fetched I know but it was actually a pretty good movie. I remember watching it on TV on a cold weekday afternoon in the early eighties and it certainly warmed me up. Since then I have never seen it on British TV but it’s well worth a search on e-bay for the DVD version. The day they show it again on TV I’ll be parked up on my favourite armchair ready to enjoy! Come on TV schedulers, get your act together!

Which movies would you like to see on the small screen?


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100 Great Movies you Must See!

I really do love movies. Well, my movies, my own personal favourite movies and I don’t always care for other people’s movies. I tend to like classic movies rather than modern ones, not that I’m denigrating modern film. Anyway, I started off trying to work out my top 10 and ended up with, well, a hundred!

Yes, I can also tell you that because of the list maniac that I am, I decided to make the list into a spreadsheet which is great because I can sort the data and throw certain things back at myself, or in this case, at you, the reader. Here are a few examples; A Number of directors had multiple entries, people like Oliver Stone, Michael Curtiz, Martin Scorcese, John Ford, and David Lean (all with three entries.) My top two directors came out as Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick each with five entries. Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Humphrey Bogart were my favourite leading men and Liz Taylor and Mia Farrow my favourite leading ladies. My favourite years for movies appears to be 1946 with four favourite films and 1956 with five. Anyway, the complete list is below, in no particular order:

A Kind of Loving
A Taste of Honey
Alfie
Blithe Spirit
Broadway Danny Rose
Casablanca
Charlie Bubbles
Dead of Night
It’s a Wonderful Life
Lost Horizon
On the Waterfront
Radio days
Rebecca
Saturday night and Sunday Morning
Serpico
Seven days in May
Spartacus
Sunset Boulevarde
Sweet Smell of Success
The Bad and the Beautiful
The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
The Long Arm
The Maltese falcon
The Man in the White Suit
The Quiet man
The Searchers
The spy who came in from the cold
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The VIP’s
2001 A Space Odyessy
A Hard Days Night
A Man for all Seasons
A Matter of Life and Death
Alien
All the President’s men
Angels One Five
Angels with dirty faces
Annie Hall
Around the world in eighty days
Awakenings
Back to the Future
Billy Liar
Bullitt
Citizen Kane
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Dances with Wolves
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dog Day Afternoon
Fail Safe
Fatal Attraction
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Get Carter
Get Shorty
Giant
Gladiator
Goodfellas
Great Expectations
Green for Danger
Gregorys Girl
Hannah and Her Sisters
JFK
Kes
Lawrence of Arabia
Little Man Tate
Lost in Translation
night Of The Demon
North by Northwest
On Her Majestys Secret Service
One Flew over the Cuckoos nest
Paths Of Glory
Platoon
Pulp Fiction
Rocky
Shane
Smokey and the Bandit
Snow White and the Seven dwarfs
Some Like it Hot
Taxi Driver
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Big Sleep
The Candidate
The Cincinatti Kid
The Cruel Sea
The Dambusters
The day the Earth stood still
The Godfather
The Graduate
The Great gatsby
The Ipcress File
The King of Comedy
The man who shot Liberty Valance
The Misfits
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
The Thief of Bagdad
The Third Man
The Wizard of Oz
Three days of the Condor
To Catch a Thief
Viva Zapata
Wall Street
Whats new Pussycat?
Whats up Doc?
When Harry met sally

Hope you enjoyed the list. What are your personal favourites?

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The Joy of a Second Hand Bookshop (and two particular gems)

There is nothing more pleasurable, certainly to me, than messing about, not in boats but in a second hand book shop. I do love flicking through the old and worn books on the shelves and if you persevere and have patience you will always find at least one book worthy of your attention. Here are two of my finds, one new and one old.

Michael Powell: a life in the movies.
IMG_20150608_221725edMichael Powell is perhaps not a name that leaps out at you but he was a movie director who made movies in partnership with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. His most famous film is probably ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, a movie starring David Niven and Kim Hunter. Niven plays a pilot who miraculously survives certain death in plane crash returning from a bombing mission in World War 2 Germany. He is then visited by a conductor from the next world, advising that his survival is a mistake and he should be dead and he now must be prepared to enter the next world. Niven decides this is not on at all as now he has fallen in love with Kim Hunter and he decides to appeal. This fantasy is interwoven with another explanation of his issue, that of a serious brain trauma that needs the help of a neurosurgeon. I loved that movie and you can see it for yourself as it’s regularly shown on British TV.
Powell and Pressburger made numerous movies together but hit a downturn in their fortunes when they made the controversial film ‘Peeping Tom’. The film was about a murderer who films the death of his victims and was not well received at the time.
Years later, directors like Martin Scorsese revived the film and praised it as a lost classic but at the time Powell and Pressburger’s career stalled fatally.
Powell’s autobiography is a wonderful read. His career as a film maker spanned some exciting times in the industry and the book is divided into three sections: Silent, Sound, and Colour. Not many directors can boast of covering a filmmaking span like that. The book is a wandering, meandering look at Powell’s life and career. It’s a rather disjointed read -Powell tends to go off at a tangent about various things- but somehow that seems to add to the enjoyment of the book rather than detract from it.

Little bit disappointed though to get to the end of this pretty hefty book to find that it’s only volume one! Better get back to the shop and see if they have volume two!

James Hilton: Lost Horizon.
8391034163_f7c1b5accb_bI picked up this wonderful gem of a book at charity shop years ago for the bargain price of twenty five pence and if I could convert the pleasure this book has given me into pounds, shillings, and pence, it would be a figure that far eclipses that initial outlay. James Hilton has become one of my favourite writers and one of my personal writing heroes. (Check out my blog about him here!) This highly original novel reflects the fear and sadness that many must have felt in the days prior to World War 2. There must have been a feeling then that with new technology the approaching conflict could be the end of civilisation.
In this wonderful book, a group of lamas in a monastery hidden from the world by a chance of geographical fate decide to look ahead and ensure that the riches of the world, not gold or silver, but literature, art and music, should be preserved should a holocaust engulf the world. To ensure that their creed of respect and compassion endures they select a British diplomat, Conway, to carry on their work and set about bringing him to Shangri-La. Shangri La is a small community in Tibet insulated from the world by mountains on all sides and the people here enjoy unheard of longevity.
Despite his capture Conway is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and given his task of continuing the community and its traditions but his fellow captives have differing ideas, especially Mallinson, his young vice-consul who is desperate to escape.
I won’t spoil things for you just in case you come across the book, or the outstanding 1937 movie directed by Frank Capra but I will say that this novel is one of my top ten books of all time, and one I return to time after time.


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Laughter and Some Random Thoughts on Movie Comedians

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Chaplin with Jackie Coogan in ‘The Kid’ (1921)

Charlie Chaplin is one of my personal heroes and one of the greats of the silver screen, perhaps the very first movie genius ever, but here’s a flash; he never ever made me laugh. Smile, yes, but laugh, no. I look at his movies and recognise his story telling power, his movie making magic and much more but no, Charlie never really made me laugh. Laurel and Hardy on the other hand, two movie comedians who are not perhaps as lauded the world over as geniuses, but who are perhaps more universally loved, well, now they do make me laugh. Whenever some catastrophe befell Oliver Hardy, whenever he stood and looked straight at the camera after a cabinet landed on his head or a car accident befell him and he stood up straight amid the shambles of a house exploding around him and Stanley would go into his helpless ‘it wasn’t my fault’ act, that my friend, would not only crack me totally up but would leave me helpless with tears of laughter running down my face.

My Dad liked Laurel and Hardy and my Dad was the master of the silent laugh. I remember once, convulsing with merriment at the aforementioned duo and wondering why my Dad didn’t think it was so funny, then turning to see him also creased up with laughter, only this was a completely silent laughter, his shoulders shook and his face contorted with mirth but no sound would ever pass his lips.

chickadeeOne of the reasons that the above few lines came to me was because, through the power of e-bay and the internet, I came into the possession of a DVD starring another of my Dad’s favourite stars, WC Fields. Fields starred with Mae West in a movie called ‘My Little Chicadee’ and it’s good to think that this movie, produced some 75 years ago still has the power to bring laughter to people like me. I love the ending of the movie when the two stars use each other’s catchphrases, Fields saying to Mae West, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me some time?’ and West replying ‘I might do that, my little chickadee!’

Another favourite comedian of mine who only made a few movies was Tony Hancock. Hancock was a successful radio and TV comedian and his TV show was so popular in the late fifties and early sixties that pub landlords complained they were losing revenue because people stayed at home to watch Hancock. Tony Hancock was a troubled and insecure man though. He dropped Sid James from his show as he felt James was becoming too popular, and at times of stress had trouble learning his lines. If you take a close look at the classic ‘blood donor’ sketch it’s clear Hancock was reading his lines from cue cards. He ventured into movies only a few times but did make the wonderful movie ‘The Rebel’ written by his BBC TV writers Galton and Simpson. In later years Hancock and his writers had a parting of the ways and Hancock sadly committed suicide in Australia in 1968.

DSC_0287Peter Sellars was a master of impersonation and the funny voice and it was his voices and the inspired madness of writer Spike Milligan that made the Goon show such a hit. Sellars went on to make many a memorable comedy movies, including the Inspector Clouseau series but for his last movie, ‘Being There’, Sellars based his character, Chancey Gardner on Stan Laurel, whom he made friends with and spent time with when he lived in Hollywood. Sellars was a strange character and if you ever catch that wonderful TV documentary made by the BBC Arena team you can see Sellars as he saw himself through his own amateur film footage. Sellars seemed to think he had no personality of his own and cloned himself from the many characters he played. During the movie ‘Casino Royale’, a spoof version of the James Bond film, Peter had a disagreement with the director and vanished for three weeks. If you watch the finished film, which has its great moments as well as its bad ones, Sellars’ character seems to disappear from the movie towards the end; clearly that’s why.

Being a great comedy star is a difficult job and perhaps that’s why so many comics and comedians are difficult people. Today’s comedy stars really do nothing for me at all and ‘observational’ comedy which is at the centre of contemporary stand-up comedy leaves me cold.

Still, if I ever need cheering up I can always just reach for the DVD cabinet and take out some classic Laurel and Hardy!


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Mr Todd and The sound of that elusive next blog!

quotescover-JPG-12Bloggers! What are you going to write about today?

Blogging, as any self-respecting blogger can tell you, is not that easy. OK, you’ve got the desire to write, you create your blog page and you start to write about your chosen subject or theme or whatever and at first you will have plenty of ideas and you’ll find yourself going strong. But, after a while, even the best writers will start to flag. You’ll find yourself thinking, ‘I haven’t done a blog for a week, what can I write about?’ It can be hard but you have to train yourself to create, to start looking at the world with a view to writing something about it whether it’s a blog about the crazy things that come into your inbox or the nutty people you find yourself sitting next to on the bus to work.

I was looking at a site the other day that gave writers prompts or themes to write about. Today, write 400 words about your garden! You get the idea. Nothing really got me going until I read further down, ‘write 400 words about a sound!’ Now that sounded a little crazy. A sound? What kind of sound could I possibly write about but then, a sound from my past came to me. It was a clicketty-click sound. The clicketty-click whirring sound of Mr Todd’s projector.

movie-projector-55122_640[1]Who was Mr Todd? Well he was a teacher at my junior school, Crossacres Junior School in Manchester and every Christmas Mr Todd set up his projector and we filed into the hall, sat down cross legged on the floor while the curtains were closed, the lights switched out and Mr Todd’s projector took us into another world, the world of films. They were mostly cartoons, things like Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny and sometime he showed a few Walt Disney animal documentaries. Those Christmas film shows were just wonderful for us children, sitting in the dark watching those slapstick antics on the screen. I used to like to sit near to Mr Todd and marvel at the projector. He would open up little doors in the workings and make adjustments, and little shafts of light would escape until he closed the small doors again, and the whirring of the reels and the clicketty-click sound was a sound I loved.

One day, and I think it must have been my last year at junior school Mr Todd retired but not only did he retire, he took his projector and films with him and the last Christmas at Crossacres was empty without him. I remember sitting in the hall listening to the choir or some play or other and hoping that eventually someone would give the signal to close the curtains and the projector would be wheeled in and the fun would begin. Mr Todd and his projector however, never returned and Christmases were never the same. Still, whenever I hear the sound of that projector the memory of that Christmas film show returns to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Hitchcock movie ‘Rebecca’, but there’s a sequence in the film where Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier start watching their home movies and we hear that clicketty click projector sound again.

I’ve always liked that movie, maybe that’s why!


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Dynamic People and the Movie Business.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI always used to the think the TV and movie business was full of creative people. It isn’t. Sure, there are creative people, people who write and direct and act but for the main part, the industry is full of dynamic people, people who get things done, people who make things happen.

I am many things, some good, some bad, but not by any stretch of the imagination can I be called dynamic.

A long time ago, fresh from my encounter with channel four (read about my Taxi project here) I was determined to break into film and TV. I had a friend called John (once again, names may have been changed to protect the innocent) who was interested in video and we made some video movies together on a pretty amateur level. We lost contact for a while but we both saw an advert in the ‘Manchester Evening News’ advertising Manchester’s new film office. Neither of us knew what the film office was so we both went down to see what it was, to see if we could maybe get a job there or make some contacts or even if we could get someone to listen to us for a few minutes. It turned out the film office was just that, an office for film makers who wanted to film on the streets of Manchester and the office would facilitate that. Anyway, because of that we met up again and John  and I started to chat about our ambitions. John had found a comedy script written by an old friend and wanted to make it into a comedy TV show. It was about a Yorkshire yokel and the silly things that happened to him so we put together a ‘treatment’ as they say in the business and took it to channel 4.

“Great,” they said, “we like it!”

“Great,” we answered, “can we have the money to make a pilot?”

“No,” they said, but if we made one they’d look at it. Well that was it I thought but John went away and came back to me a few days later. He had placed adverts in the press looking for actors and needed me to help him with the first rehearsal!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I have to say I was surprised and a little and shocked but I looked at John, dynamic John, with new found awe and respect. Numerous people turned up at John’s place and John gave out parts and we had our first read through. Afterwards John cooked a meal; basic stuff, beans, toast and so on, but he cooked a meal for the assembled company. Most of them were students so perhaps John thought that was a good way to keep them coming back! The one problem was that our star actor, and here my memory has failed me a little, I can’t remember if the star actor was a friend of John’s or the writer or John’s mate’s friend or whatever but the star actor lived in Huddersfield. He played the leading part but he was too busy to come over to Greater Manchester and mix with his fellow TV actors and crew. In fact he felt we should all go over to Huddersfield!

Anyway, rehearsals continued without our lead and we chose an actor from our new troupe to stand in for the lead. The lead’s mother was played by a lady from Stockport amateur rep and she seemed to feel that perhaps we were more amateur than her and resigned. Her place was taken by a young black girl who did a great Yorkshire accent and generally played the part pretty well.

A week later she astounded us by playing the part in a Caribbean accent.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and she explained that her mother was a Caribbean immigrant and therefore a black woman of that age in Yorkshire must have been an immigrant also. Her logic was clear and she was playing a good part, bringing her own background and experience to the role so we said, “great. Carry on.”

A few weeks later the guy playing the yokel’s father left and our Caribbean girl suggested a replacement. It was another black actor so we gave him a shot and he worked well with the ‘mother’, also playing things from a Caribbean perspective. Now about this time I was concentrating on the video side and I was busy trying to get Panasonic to lend me a broadcast standard video camera so we could shoot our pilot. When I returned to our ‘set’ a few weeks later we had lost control of the shoot. Our Yorkshire yokel project had become a sort of Afro-Caribbean meets Yorkshire project and on top of that, John, and it is probably an understatement to describe him here as a fellow who liked the ladies,  John had lost no time in using his new ‘producer’ status to attract more young ladies. Various females appeared ‘on set’ and he took pictures of them or videoed them reading from the script. They were clearly thankful to their producer for giving them this chance!

One day we were shooting out in Didsbury when a girl I had never seen before called out “CUT! Set up for retake!”

“Who are you?” I asked only for John to shoot over and calm me down.

“Can’t we give her just a bit of a chance at being director?” he asked. John, like many a producer before and since had lost his soul to the power of the movie business.

Anyway, I thought the time had come to return the project to its humble beginnings. It wasn’t a show about Caribbean immigrants. It had morphed into something I didn’t know anything at all about but John felt things had evolved naturally and it was important to follow that course to the end. Sadly, John and I went our separate ways. I went back to bus driving for a short while then I later became a cigarette salesman and today, apart from being an amateur writer and blogger I work for the Highways Agency.

And John? Did I mention what John does? No?

He’s a film producer.

Anyway, not to worry, has he got a blog as good as this one? Doubt it but if you enjoyed this post you might want to read my book. Click the icon below!