The Breaking Point

Leona and Harry on his boat

Released in 1950 two years before the death of its star, John Garfield, aged only 39, The Breaking Point played to all Garfield’s strengths – he’s the tough guy military veteran attempting to maintain masculine dignity in a world that doesn’t want him any more. It was his favourite role. Harry Morgan (Garfield) is scraping along in the business he set up after he returned from the Second World War, chartering boats out for fishing and whatever comes along. Times are hard and he owes everyone money, and so, in hock to his eyeballs, a disappointment to his loving wife (Phyllis Thaxter), bossed by an offstage father-in-law dangling a job with his successful company, … Read more

Mystery of the Wax Museum

A wax figure melts in the flames

Screwball but not comedy, 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum is less well known than its remake, 1953’s House of Wax, but more fascinating in many respects, particularly in its portrayal of liberated young women making their way in the world. There’s sex and drugs too, though you wouldn’t bother with it for those. The Hays Code, which cleaned up American movies starting around 1934, wasn’t expressly designed to put women back in their box (discuss) but it did it anyway. The ostensible star of this pre-Code film is eminent stage actor Lionel Atwill, as the driven creator of wax effigies of great historical figures whose London museum burns down in the film’s … Read more

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Errol Flynn in lancer's helmet in The Charge of the Light Brigade

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 28 March Crimean War escalates, 1854 On this day in 1854, Britain and France declared war against Russia. Russia and the Ottoman Empire had been at war since October the previous year, when conflict had broken out ostensibly about the rights of Christians in the Holy Land – being restricted by Muslim Ottomans and being protected by Orthodox Russian if you accept the Russians’ diplomatic rhetoric. In fact the war was about territory, the Turks being on the decline after centuries of dominance in the region, the Russians keen to continue their expansion west into Europe and particularly south to the … Read more

Yankee Doodle Dandy

James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 6 January FD Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, 1941 On this day in 1941, the president of the USA, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered what has become known as the Four Freedoms Speech. Addressing the US Congress in the annual State of the Union speech, Roosevelt outlined what he believed those four freedoms to be – Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. The speech was significant for several reasons. First, it sought to extend the freedoms already guaranteed by the Constitution (speech and worship) with freedoms which more problematically lined up with a more progressive, interventionist, Democrat … Read more


casablanca casablanca 29953288 1474 1800

Exhortations to go and see this timeless film are usually based on its treasure chest of quotable lines. “Round up the usual suspects”, “We’ll always have Paris”, “Play it, Sam”, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and so on. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the one where the guy doesn’t get the gal, discovers his soul and wanders off into the gloom with a Nazi-sympathising police chief who may have just had a similar epiphany. Modern Hollywood films often generate a similar tension – can Spider-Man nobly save a cable-car of terrified schoolkids about to hurtle to their death or will he selfishly save his girlfriend instead? And modern Hollywood films … Read more

The Adventures of Robin Hood


“Only the rainbow can duplicate its brilliance” ran the tagline to the swashbuckler from 1938 which took a young Tasmanian and gave him a movie role that would define him for ever. Errol Flynn may have become a fat roué in later life but here, as Robin Hood, he is every inch the handsome, athletic, cocky, light-hearted and brave hero. The film too is full of that brio, telling a story of good v bad, true love v convenience, rich v poor, idealism v cynicism. That “brilliance”, by the way, comes from the costly and technically demanding Technicolor three-strip process, which produces colours more saturated than any subsequent process has managed. Everything – … Read more