Murder by Death

The detectives assembled

In Murder by Death Neil Simon proves he’s not always the surefire comedy hotshot, Peter Sellers reminds us that his non-European comedy characters are stinkers and Truman Capote demonstrates, in his only proper acting role, that he’d have made a pretty good Bond villain. It’s a spoof of a country house whodunit, written by Simon, directed by Robert Moore and with a cast that’s pure gold and the saving of this movie demonstrating that if you’re going to kick the legs out from under a genre, you’d better have done your homework. The conceit that Simon has come up with is to collect all the world’s most famous detectives – names slightly changed … Read more

Our Man in Havana

Hawthorne looks on as Wormold demonstrates a vacuum cleaner

A quick look at the list of ingredients and the people involved would probably be enough to convince most people that 1959’s Our Man in Havana was going to be a cracker – but it isn’t. It’s a cake full of good things that isn’t, in itself, a good cake. Pity. The promising components include Graham Greene’s screenplay, the presence of Carol Reed as director – these two had already given the world The Third Man and The Fallen Idol – Alec Guinness in a lead role, plus excellent support players including Noël Coward, Ralph Richardson, Burl Ives and Maureen O’Hara, with location shooting in Cuba just post the Castro revolution and cinematography … Read more

Star Wars

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 23 March President Reagan proposes the Strategic Defense Initiative, On this day in 1983, President Reagan announced a change in the country’s defence policy. Hitherto relying on a launch-on-warning (aka fail-deadly) response to attack – Mutual Assured Destruction – the US switched to a stated position of defending the country, not attacking an enemy: the Strategic Defense Initiative. Since the previous strategy had relied on a superabundance of ballistic nuclear weapons, the idea being that even if only a small percentage got through, the damage to the other side (the Soviet Union, generally) would be so great that nobody would even … Read more

Oliver Twist

Oliver is menaced by Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist

The sort of film that most of us have slept through a few times. No, not the one with “Consider Yourself” and all those other fabulous Lionel Bart songs. Instead, it’s the David Lean version of Dickens’s story of a nice young lad all at sea in bad old London, completely song-free and freighted with baggage – Alec Guinness’s Semitic schnozz for starters, his wheedling manner for another – as thiefmaster Fagin. But beneath Fagin’s hard shell and stereotyped Jewish image (based on the Cruickshank drawings, that’s Lean’s and Guinness’s defence) there beats a heart of gold, while around him operates his gang of reasonably well-cared-for ne’er-do-well pickpockets. It’s Robert Newton’s Bill Sykes who’s … Read more

The Ladykillers

theladykillers02 b

Now that there’s a new team at Ealing Studios, using an illustrious old name to sell underweight product (St Trinian’s, Dorian Gray, Burke and Hare) it’s a good time to look back at 1955’s The Ladykillers, the last classic of the studio’s golden era. Its director, Alexander Mackendrick, also called the shots on Whisky Galore! in 1949 and The Man In The White Suit in 1951 and would go on to make one of America’s most rancidly brilliant satires, The Sweet Smell of Success. But here the accent is definitely on the sweet smell of lavender water, as a group of robbers, led by Alec Guinness’s caterpillar-browed Professor Marcus, first fool an old … Read more