Tuesday’s Forgotten TV: THE FIRST CHURCHILLS

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Nov 262013

In 1971, MASTERPIECE THEATER began it 43 year run with THE FIRST CHURCHILLS, a BBC costume drama based on Winston Churchills’ family memoir. I remember being filled with excitement about this 12 part series, one of the first tastes of British TV I had had.  It was perhaps the only TV show that academics would admit watching.

If you look at the first few seasons of the show, most series were based on great works of literature: James, Balzac, Dickens, Zola, Collins, Wharton. It was not until UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS perhaps that they reached out to a broader audience and offered, what seemed at the time, a more raucous story.

As you can see, these were not lavish productions even by the standard of the day. But you could watch TV believing you were being educated as well as entertained if that made a difference to you.

After several seasons, I found that no matter what book the series did, who the author was, the results were fairly similar and static. They all had much the same look to them and much the same sort of characters. I am sure it is me who was lacking and not the series. The introduction of MASTERPIECE MYSTERY added a new ingredient, but the results are often too similar in tone for me. A writer’s style is lost as the same production teams, directors, set designers, etc, take hold of them and give them the BBC feel.

I am sorry to offend and clearly most US series are inferior to what we find here. But I can’t help but think it could be better.

Here is a list of all the series, they did. 

Tuesday’s Forgotten Movies

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Nov 122013

Richard Harris plays Frank Machin, a man who speaks with his fists all too often in this 1963 film by director, Lindsay Anderson. It takes place in northern England in all its grimy glory where Harris is recruited for a rugby team, a sport he seems perfectly suited to.

Rachel Roberts is the widow with two kids he becomes strangely infatuated with despite almost no encouragement from her. If you saw this film today, you would wonder if his interest was more in her kids, but not in 1963.

Harris is a bit too reminiscent of Brando in STREETCAR and Burton in LOOK BACK IN ANGER but he dominates the screen in his own right. Albert Finney was meant to play the part as he had starred with Roberts in SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING a few years earlier. But scheduling problems brought Harris on board.

Oddly, we see very little rugby. Perhaps it is not the most cinematic sport. Rachel Roberts does not garner much sympathy either. Did she ever? I wonder if another actress might have played her role very differently.

Where this film succeeded best for us was showing us northern England: the look of it, what people did for fun, how frugally most people lived there. It was beautifully put together.

We saw this film at the MOMA in New York. What a great program of films they have! 

Has rugby ever figured into a crime fiction novel? 

Forgotten Movies: BILLY LIAR

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Nov 052013

BILLY LIAR was a launching pad for both Julie Christie and Tom Courtenay. It’s a sort of Walter Mitty story of a young man who lives more in his fantasy world than the real one. He has gotten himself engaged to two women and is proving a disappointment to everyone involved with him. Only the character played by Julie Christie seems to be able to anchor him.

BILLY LIAR was first a novel, then a play with Albert Finney in the lead, then this movie by John Schlesinger and finally a TV series.  The movie in 1963 has the feel of so many British movies from that era to me.

Forgotten Movies: BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN

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Oct 222013

I adored MIchael Parks at age sixteen and he starred in this film shortly before his TV series ALONG CAME BRONSON. In this one he is backed by: Ann Margaret, Kim Darby, Janet Margolin, Jocelyn Brando, Mimy Farmer. It has the vibe of a sixties movie, not sure exactly where to land.

From Wikipedia-

Bus Riley’s Back in Town finds a young man returning from a stint in the Navy to a world that is not quite the one he left behind. His unscrupulous and devastating ex-girlfriend Laurel (Ann Margret) has married an older and wealthier man. The job he’s been promised disappears. Bus Riley’s relationship with his old girlfriend is no less than a drug, he cannot resist her as she zaps him of all his morality and his resolve and sense of self. His mother watches him sink, trying to hold on to her son and leave him enough room to find his way back from the hell of sexual addiction.
The film is provocative and sexy and yet rather sweet. Perhaps the scenes between the two teen girls keep the film from devolving into bathetic melodrama. This is a crossroads when the 50’s greaser chic meets 60’s Beatle chic, a cultural phenomenon rarely noted.
 Just when it seems he is losing himself again, his little sister’s best friend’s mother sets their house on fire in an alcoholic haze, killing herself and leaving the girl homeless. The tragedy brings the Rileys together as they remember what matters – family – and the young girlfriend finds a home with the Rileys.

Forgotten Movies: LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN

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Oct 152013

For those who can’t abide movies about unlikable characters, Gene Tierney takes the bull by the horns in this one. Has anyone seen more gorgeous sisters than Tierney and Crain? Tierney plays a woman who chooses a man (Wilde) who resembles her much loved father. Anyone who threatens to come between them, including his brother and her sister, is at risk.John Stahl directed a movie that scared me to death as a kid. Surely women like this one did not exist.

Forgotten Movies: DIABOLIQUE

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Sep 242013

Not exactly forgotten, but perhaps not seen in a long time. This is a cracking good suspense film made in 1955. Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, and Paul Meurisse play a violent schoolmaster, his frail wife and his sexy mistress, all employed at the same school and caught up in a deadly game. The details are perfect, the suspense, palpable. Henri-Geogres Clouzot directed his wife and she is pitch perfect as the fragile vessel. Simone, only in her early thirties, seems much older. Is it the hair style?

The detective does not make an appearance until the final third of the film and is very Columbo-ish. But there is nothing light-hearted here except for the antics of the school children in the background.

The same writing team (Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac) wrote VERTIGO. One so French, the other so Californian.

The nineties remake lacks the atmosphere, tension, everything.  See the real thing.


 Forgotten Movies  Comments Off on Forgotten Movies: THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN
Sep 172013

This is the theme music by Pat Metheny.

I am not sure how this would hold up–or even if it was ever a good film. But Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton were both hot properties then, so the film got a lot of attention. Especially since they played somewhat murky figures.John Schlesinger directed this movie, based on a true story in 1985.

Two guys, one a disgruntled federal employee and one a druggie, childhood friends, are recruited by the Soviet Union. It seemed properly moody and cynical then but perhaps I was under the influence of their star power.

Forgotten Movies: MY SISTER EILEEN

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Sep 102013

This was a film I could not get enough of as a teenager. (And why is it always Ohio the would be New Yorkers are coming from?) The original source was the stories of Ruth McKenney based on her own move to New York with her sister. Then came a Broadway musical written by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodrov. Then came the movie written by Blake Edwards and Rich Quine and directed by Quine. And finally a brief TV series.

I never got to escape to New York, but the dream was passed on.

Anyway. Betty Garrett and Janet Leigh play two sisters (a writer and an actress) trying to make it in New York. The wonderful Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall dance their way through the film.Jack Lemmon gets top billing, but somehow it is the singing and dancing you remember most. It is too bad that Betty Garrett is remembered mostly for some later ho-hum TV work on ALL IN THE FAMILY and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY and not for the Broadway star that she was earlier.

Forgotten Movies: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and a Question

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Sep 032013

1950-Directed by John Huston, based on the novel by W.R. Burnet

Although not really a forgotten movie, I just saw this one for the first time and was knocked out by it. John Huston managed to tuck a heist in the middle of a string of terrific character studies. Starring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe and a young Marilyn Monroe, it was full of atmosphere, great dialog, action, and character. The heist was background material more than foreground. Every character has something to hide.

What is your favorite heist movie? I love RIFIFI but there are so many great ones.


 Forgotten Movies  Comments Off on Forgotten Movie- PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK
Aug 202013

Can any Al Pacino movie really be forgotten? I think this–his first–is a bit.
Almost scary enough to be a cautionary tale. Pacino and Winn play two lovers who get caught up in heroin addiction in New York in the early seventies. Pacino went from this to the THE GODFATHER. A highly realistic film, so seldom done now. Seventies movies always rock for me. Winn went on to obscurity.

I wonder if this film is more often talked about than watched.