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Frank points the gun at the camera

Blast of Silence

Allen Baron. You’ve probably never heard of him. But he willed into being 1961’s Blast of Silence, a remarkable late noir – or early neo-noir, depending on which end of the telescope you’re looking through – which he wrote, directed and also took the leading role in when his original star, buddy Peter Falk, bailed out on him. Understandably, Falk was being offered a paying gig in the movie Murder, Inc. and Baron’s no-budget film looked like it might never get finished. There isn’t much of a story but there’s enough. A hitman (Baron) arrrives in New York, is given the name of the target, then sources a gun to do the job. … Read more
Lin Yun as mermaid Shan

The Mermaid

So, Stephen Chow, the martial-arts practitioner/actor/writer/director/producer best known outside Asia for two brilliant films, 2001’s Shaolin Soccer and 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle, hasn’t troubled western waters too much ever since. Take The Mermaid, the all-time highest-grossing movie in Chinese history barely got seen when it was released in the UK (where I live) and it didn’t fare any better in the USA. What western distributors have against a proven moneyspinner I don’t know, but Chow’s previous film, Journey to the West, also the highest-grossing movie in Chinese history when it was released in 2013, suffered a similar fate. But back to The Mermaid, a fun, fast and familiar piece of Chow excess laced … Read more
Janet Blair and Peter Wyngarde

Night of the Eagle

Everyone is on their game in Night of the Eagle, an American-financed, British-made horror movie that gets it just about all right, even though the ingredients don’t look like they’re up to much. Peter Wyngarde stars, a cult actor here one year on from The Innocents – one of the best British horror films ever made – sinking his teeth into the role of the rationalist lecturer who has all his beliefs upended when he discovers his wife is a witch. Norman Taylor (Wyngarde) is doing OK at the college where he lectures and when not instructing his students on the real underpinnings of superstition (something vaguely to do with neurosis, it’s suggested) … Read more
Gilda and Cristi

The Whistlers

A stonefaced middle-aged Romanian cop arrives on the brutally beautiful island of La Gomera (the original title of The Whistlers) in the Canaries. A stunning woman is there to meet him. Forget what happened in Bucharest, she whispers into his ear as they embrace, it was just for the security cameras. We can guess what “Bucharest” was all about but writer/director Corneliu Poromboiu gives it to us anyway, in a vivid, cool, drily funny and sexy flashback to Cristi’s (Vlad Ivanov) first encounter with Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) – her film noir name absolutely no mistake. Hang on to those moments because that’s it as far as sex and jokes are concerned. Style, yes, plenty … Read more
Pilot Tony McVane in a plane talking to journalist Kay Hammond

Q Planes

Screw your eyes up a bit and don’t ask too many questions and you can just about see the outline of the James Bond franchise in 1939’s Q Planes, a breezy mix of spycraft, flirtatiousness, tech and eccentricity, all served up with the sort of crisp British diction you’d expect from a film made mostly in Denham Studios, home of Things to Come, Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit. Another endpoint is the 1960s spytastic TV series The Avengers. Patrick Macnee admitted that he borrowed much of the character of mysterious brolly-carrying, hat-wearing spy Major John Steed from Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of mysterious brolly-carrying hat-wearing spy Major Charles Hammond. Hammond is introduced brilliantly in … Read more
Adam Driver ready to shoot something


“Adam Driver fights dinosaurs” seems to be the social media consensus on 65, in which Adam Driver does indeed fight dinosaurs, but also fear itself, in a surprisingly good and tense thriller directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the guys who wrote A Quiet Place. The buzz was not good even before it opened, and the studio kept this film away from the press, allowing only one screening right before it premiered, to minimise negative publicity. Clearly, they felt, something had gone wrong. Which is odd because Driver is a proven quantity, so it should have been something. Sci-fi – also a winner. Dinosaurs – who doesn’t love a dinosaur? And yet… The … Read more
Kelly attacks in the film's opening moments

The Naked Kiss

Tabloid journalist makes tabloid movie shock! Writer/director/producer and former newspaperman Sam Fuller demonstrates his nose for a story with The Naked Kiss, a lurid, headline-grabbing movie too sensational for a few jurisdictions when it came out in 1964. It is the whore-to-madonna tale of a prostitute who – either seeing the error of her ways or realising she’s too old for the job – gives it all up and becomes a teacher of disabled kids in a white-picket US town. But can the universe forgive her for her previous life, or will an avenging angel soon be winging its way towards her? You know it will. The film opens in spectacular fashion, with a one-two … Read more
The Virginian draws a gun

The Virginian

The Virginian’s ambitions aren’t that great. It wants to be a normal, everyday western like they used to make, in which man’s-gotta-do men negotiate morality in a lawless world, a baddie wore a black hat and a fair lady was open to a bit of courting as long as it was respectful. Can such a western be made? Is there an audience for it? The TV show The Virginian, which this isn’t, was one of several long-running series with high production values and fine actors. It ran for 249 shows over nine years, a way behind Bonanza (430 episodes between 1959 and 1973) and Gunsmoke (635 episodes between 1955 and 1975). Together, with … Read more
Inspector Moldovan

Un Comisar Acuzã

The Romanian Spielberg is how director Sergiu Nicolaescu is often described. That’s a bit misleading but catches a flavour of the prolific writer/director/actor who from the 1960s until his death in 2013 made films designed to be seen by as many people as possible. 1974’s Un Comisar Acuzã is a prime example of what he was all about. A classic crime thriller with a distinctly political angle, it both plays to the Communist Ceaușescu regime’s notion of itself as the font of justice and, glimpsed side-on, critiques it, all the while delivering action, thrills, a fast-moving narrative and a hero who’s easy to like. Useful background to have before going in: in the … Read more
Lula in the bath

Mermaid in Paris

The title is a potential problem for Mermaid in Paris, Une Sirène à Paris in the original French, a language with only one word, Sirène, for both Mermaid (half human, half fish, entirely fictional, essentially benign) and Siren (half human, half fish, entirely fictional, essentially malign). Mermaids are sexy and nice; sirens are sexy and not. Mermaids aren’t known for the voices; sirens lure humans to their deaths, often on treacherous rocks, by singing to them. Mythologically, sirens didn’t start out as half fish. They were half bird until the Middle Ages, when, under the influence of the mermaid, they began transitioning. Why does this any of this matter? Because Lula (Marilyn Lima), … Read more
Zoé and Maggie

Irma Vep

Irma Vep is an obvious anagram of “vampire” and so you might reasonably expect it to be about a vampire, or vampires, or something that sucks blood. Maybe? Wrong. And yet right. Oh these trickster French directors. Olivier Assayas wrote this 1996 movie, as he did the 2022 TV show based on it. Both tell the same story – of a foreign actress who arrives in Paris to star in a remake of a classic 1915 film, Les Vampires, about a mysterious black-clad female who is part cat burglar, part seductress and part muse, and the force behind a criminal gang called the Vampires, on account of the dark clothing more than anything … Read more
Close up of Mary Woodvine

Enys Men

How the hell do you follow Bait? A movie made for nothing shot on 16mm on a wind-up Bolex, an experiment, more or less, which somehow got off Dr Frankenstein’s table and made it into the big wide world. If you don’t know what I’m talking about… shakes head. Enys Men is the answer, writer/director Mark Jenkin’s bold sideways move into colour but using the same basic equipment – wind-up camera, 16mm film (later digitised and then massively colour graded) – and with the sound post-dubbed. A tiny crew, a handful of actors, with the vast bulk of the action focusing on Mary Woodvine, who plays The Volunteer, a woman on a remote … Read more

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