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Willy Fritsch as agent 326

Spies

Metropolis, now seen as a classic, didn’t do many favours for director Fritz Lang short term. And it nearly bankrupted Ufa, the studio that made it. For Lang’s follow-up, Spies (Spione), Ufa clipped his wings and forced him to shoot on a reduced budget. Hey ho, another classic, and also, just incidentally, the template for almost all of the spy thrillers of the future. In a brilliant, lightning-fast opening montage, Lang lays out his stall – stolen documents, a murder, a public furore stoked by incendiary newspaper headlines (“public officials asleep on the job”), – another murder, followed by a man who might as well be named M calling a spy who might … Read more
The Grabber in a mask

The Black Phone

The Black Phone is the movie Scott Derrickson went off to direct after leaving Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness due to “creative differences”. He’d directed the first Dr Strange, a massive financial success, so you’d have thought the Marvel guys would cut him a bit more slack than they ultimately were prepared to. Anyway, on to the next project, a strange (pun intended) genre-crash horror movie that’s not that frightening, nor does it seem intended to be. Someone is kidnapping kids. Even big tough kids are disappearing into the van of some weird guy who leaves behind telltale black balloons. The kids are never seen again. Enter our milquetoast hero, Finney … Read more
Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

The title of the movie Kiss the Blood Off My Hands makes a promise that can’t be fulfilled. An attention grabber, even before it had debuted there was talk of changing it, to Blood on My Hands (which is how the film is listed on the IMDb). In some parts of the USA it went out as the even more timid The Unafraid. Dramatic though the original title is, it’s all wrong for a story about an accidental killer and his gal and is more suited to a lurid 1960s shocker or a 1980s video nasty than a 1948 melodrama. It’s the first in a long string of fascinating movies made by Burt … Read more
Hap and Mina sitting together

House of Darkness

Neil LaBute made his name first as a playwright then as a film-maker interested in exploring the codes of masculinity, some suddenly toxic, some still holding up OK(ish), in a culture that seemed to have moved on faster than some men were able to. In the Company of Men (1997) and Your Friends & Neighbours (1997) were his first two movies and are still sources of high-octane neat LaBute, if that’s what you’re after. He’s broadened his range and taken on gun-for-hire jobs in the interim but again and again returns to this same question of the male in trouble. Which brings us to House of Darkness, a tale of beta-male overreach enabled … Read more
Eleanor and newspaperman Dan Leggett

Woman on the Run

Originally titled Man on the Run, Woman on the Run has two claims to specialness. First is the choice role it hands to Ann Sheridan, the film’s star. The second is the extensive use of locations out on the streets of San Francisco, where much of it was shot. It opens as a classic film noir – a nighttime cityscape and a lone male out walking. With his dog. This is strange. Film noir males don’t have pets. They’re loners. A bottle is more likely to be their special friend. And this is 1950 – peak noir. Curb Your Dog, reads the sign Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) pauses besides at the start of … Read more
The Djinn and Alithea

Three Thousand Years of Longing

The bomb of 2022 is what industry somebodies are calling Three Thousand Years of Longing. True, it didn’t do very good box office. It did terrible box office in fact. But streaming will probably claw back some of the deficit, where it’ll almost certainly be watched several times by quite a number of people. It’s that sort of film. It’s a compendium affair, always a tough sell, with no explicit throughline, the story of a narratologist (a person who studies stories to reveal truths about humanity) who finds a bottle in a bazaar while at an academic conference in Istanbul and discovers that it contains a genie, or djinn as they now tend … Read more
The Avengers

All the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked

The good, the bad and the ugly, from the very first one to the most recent, here’s the what and the why of Marvel’s web-spinning, hammer-throwing, shield-tossing, Groot-uttering heroes and superheroes in one handy chunk Who’d have thought, when Iron Man gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008, that more than two decades on it would still be flying and still pulling in enthusiastic audiences? Even Kevin Feige, who has produced every single one of them, cannot have expected a run of so many successful films – pushing $30 billion at the box office and counting. As I write, in September 2022, Marvel are planning releases as far as ten years … Read more
Alexei Navalny being interviewed

Navalny

Daniel Roher’s documentary Navalny starts with a bit of a joke. Roher, interviewing the Russian politician, would-be president, survivor of a gruesome poisoning, and (as I write) prisoner in a Russian jail, asks him how he’d like to be remembered by the Russian people if he is assassinated. Navalny laughs in an affable “guys, do me a favour” kind of way while pointing out to Roher that this film he’s in the process of making can go one of two ways. It can either be a thriller (he survives) or a “boring memoir” (he is killed). Roher then cuts to a very 007-style shot, of a wintry mountain, from high over the trees, … Read more
Mr Smith has Mrs Smith in a headlock

Mr & Mrs Smith

Here’s a strange thing – a screwball comedy by Alfred Hitchcock. Mr and Mrs Smith is the only one he made, and it’s not very good. A “comedy of remarriage”, it’s not a thousand miles away in plot from The Philadelphia Story, about a husband and wife discovering that a legal technicality means their three-year marriage is void. If they want to be husband and wife for real, they’ll have to “remarry”. But, now they’ve got the chance, will they? As a bit of a preamble to all this, some vital character furniture is put in place in an opening scene telling us in broad strokes that David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann (Carole Lombard) … Read more
Sonia and the Duke

Arsène Lupin

1932’s Arsène Lupin wasn’t the first movie about the gentleman thief by a long stretch but it is one of the best, thanks to canny casting and a pace that never slackens. The canny casting comes in the shape of the Barrymore brothers, Lionel and John, on screen together in starring roles for the first time – the publicity machine made much of it. Older sibling Lionel gets the best of it as the huffing, irascible cop Guerchard, while John (aka “The Great Profile”) does more matinee idol stuff as the Duke of Charmerace, womanising noble lord by day, thief by night, and a thief, what’s more, who likes to announce to the … Read more
Emilia Jones as Ruby

CODA

CODA is the acronym for Children of Deaf Adults and the name of a movie whose subject matter might make many people pause before watching. Too worthy maybe. Sign language all over the place. Triumph over adversity mawkishness. Though it won an Oscar for Best Picture, this can be not so much a gong, more a warning bell – see Crash, Driving Miss Daisy and Around the World in 80 Days. So it’s a surprise to find what a sweet, straightforward film it is. An underdog movie that piles it on with an earth mover, it stars Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, the teenage fully-hearing daughter of two deaf parents, sister to a … Read more
Myrna Loy and William Powell

I Love You Again

I Love You Again is a knockabout Hollywood farce, a cock-eyed “comedy of remarriage” – The Philadelphia Story is the king of the genre – done in rat-a-rat style by the crack team of director WS Van Dyke and his stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Van Dyke was known as One Take Woody, for reasons that don’t need explaining, and at this point had worked together with Powell and Loy on three Thin Man films, which had done all three of them a lot of favours. If you’re not familiar with the Thin Man films (there would eventually be six; the first three are the best), they all feature Powell and Loy as … Read more

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