The Wrong Box

John Mills in bed and Michael Caine standing over him

Lovely wallpaper. It’s not the highest praise you could give to a film, but The Wrong Box is one of those British films of the 1960s that’s so fundamentally terrible that you are left scrabbling to find something good to say about it. It’s a bad picture but isn’t the frame lovely? It’s one of those sub-Agatha Christie comic capers set in the Victorian era, where two ancient brothers are the last survivors of an elaborate tontine pact set up decades before – everyone pays in but only the last surviving member benefits from the payout – with John Mills and Ralph Richardson as Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, the two old duffers trying … Read more

The Fallen Idol

Phillipe and Baines

Of the three films that writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed made together, The Fallen Idol is the one that languishes at the back of the stage while The Third Man and Our Man in Havana soak up the applause. That’s probably fair, all things considered, but that doesn’t mean this 1948 movie should be written off. It’s a highly intricate puzzle of interlocking parts with a plot about people trying to do the right thing, then failing, then trying to do the wrong thing, and then failing at that too. But the main driver is a young lad, Phillipe, the chatty and precocious diplomat’s son whose parents are so often absent … Read more

Q Planes

Pilot Tony McVane in a plane talking to journalist Kay Hammond

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

The Looking Glass War

Anthony Hopkins with Christopher Jones

The third of John Le Carré’s spy thrillers to be adapted for the big screen, 1970’s The Looking Glass War is an odd and pretty much entirely unsuccessful spy thriller that’s taken a big conceptual decision only for it not to pay off at all. The first two adaptations were the big success The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (Richard Burton starred) and the underrated The Deadly Game (a reworking of Le Carré’s novel Call for the Dead, with James Mason as a version of George Smiley). There’s no sign of Smiley here, though he was in this film’s original novel. That said, there is some justification for removing him since … Read more