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

Obsession aka The Hidden Room

Bill and Clive

In 1948 the brilliant director Edward Dmytryk left the United States in a hurry. He’d just been sentenced to prison time for failing to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. One of the so-called Hollywood Ten, Dmytryk fled to the UK, where he made a couple of films before his passport ran out and he returned to the US to face the music, and jail. The first of those films was Obsession, released in the US as The Hidden Room. Dmytryk is often remembered as the director of all-American movies, like the Philip Marlowe mystery Murder, My Sweet (also known as Farewell My Lovely). Obsession isn’t as noirish in any sense but … Read more

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine

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

Henry V

Laurence Olivier as Henry V

Laurence Olivier didn’t want to direct Henry V. He was nervous about taking it on, what with having no actual directing experience and this being a film hoping to raise British morale during the Second World War (it was part financed by the government). Olivier asked William Wyler, his Wuthering Heights director, to take it on. Wyler declined, and so, later, did Carol Reed. Both told him the same thing – if it’s Shakespeare then it’s got to be you. Oliver screwed up his courage to the sticking place (to borrow a line from Macbeth) and got to work. The result is a magnificent hybrid of the theatrical and the cinematic, with the longest … 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