Cross of Iron

James Coburn as Sergeant Steiner

Two types of nobility do battle in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron, a 1977 movie out of time in the Star Wars era and too subtle and ambiguous to count back then as mass entertainment. Starting with the opening credits – German schoolchildren sing nursery rhymes one second, German soldiers bellow military anthems the next, while images of war and destruction flash up on the screen. Hitler takes a salute, there are pictures of men starving and dying on the front, and now we hear the children again. Is Peckinpah being ironic? And then a shock. The Germans are the good guys. They are played by recognisable faces – James Coburn, James Mason and … Read more

Odd Man Out

Johnny hiding in a dark place

The tragedy is Greek but the accents are Irish in 1947’s Odd Man Out, a day in the death of a wounded Republican man on the run in Belfast. The film turned James Mason from a British star into an international one and is often rated as director Carol Reed’s best film. Peckinpah loved it. Polanski also. Mason thought it was the best thing he ever did. An opening statement declares that this isn’t really about partisan struggle in Northern Ireland, where Republican Catholics were engaged in a long struggle against Protestant Unionists. And, true to their word, director Carol Reed and writers FL Green (he also wrote the book the film is … Read more


Leonora is consoled by Dr Quinada

Revenge would be a better title but Caught it is, director Max Ophüls’s broadside against Howard Hughes, who’d fired him from Vendetta only days into shooting a film that was meant to launch the career of Faith Domergue, a Hughes “discovery” (booty division). Vendetta ended up with five directors’ names attached to it so clearly the launch needed more grease on the slipway than anticipated. Hughes’s treatment of women, it turns out, is what Caught is all about, a reworking of the Libbie Block novel Wild Calendar also incorporating the stories Ophüls and screenwriter Arthur Laurents had heard about the infamously philandering studio boss. Naive and nice young thing Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) … Read more

The Last of Sheila

The suspects prepare to board the boat

As namechecked by Rian Johnson while out on the promotion trail, The Last of Sheila looks like a good chunk of the inspiration for his Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery. Adding to its attraction are the names of the bizarre writing team behind this whodunit from 1973: Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. It was the only screenplay either of them would ever write and sprang from the murder-mystery evenings they used to put on for a bit of fun in New York. The director Herbert Ross, then probably most famous for directing Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam, was at one of them and suggested Hopkins and Sondheim work one of … Read more

The Reckless Moment

James Mason and Joan Bennett

Melodrama lush and silk-wrapped in The Reckless Moment, a typically opulent film from Max Ophüls, billed almost inevitably as Max Opuls in the four films he made in the USA, of which this was the last. He’s best known for Lola Montes and La Ronde, and for a strange fascination with female characters whose name began with the letter L (it was Léocadie, played by Simone Signoret, in La Ronde, no prizes for guessing who it was in Lola Montes). Lucia is his L of a gal in The Reckless Moment, Joan Bennett showing what an all-rounder she was in a role that’s several rungs up the social ladder and a moral universe … Read more

The Deadly Affair

Charles Dobbs on the phone

1966’s The Deadly Affair repeats the formula of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold – John Le Carré story, top British and European cast, London locations, great US director, ace British cinematographer, soundtrack by a big name – and if it isn’t quite up there with the 1965 film, it’s still one of the very best Le Carré adaptations. It takes Le Carré’s first novel, A Call for the Dead, slaps a less sombre, more bums-on-seats title on it and also renames Le Carré’s masterspy George Smiley, as Charles Dobbs (Paramount, who had made The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, “owned” the Smiley name). Though in all important respects this is … Read more