They Made Me a Fugitive

Sally Gray as Sally and Trevor Howard as Clem

Exactly why the 1947 crime drama They Made Me a Fugitive was renamed I Became a Criminal for its US release is something of a mystery. One is more passive, the other more active, yup, understood. But the original title is better, punchier and asks a question – who made who a criminal? Whereas the US title is kind of flappy – so you became a criminal, so what? The irony is that this British movie really wants to be an American one. It’s soaked in the stylings, characters and logic of film noir, with mean streets, a femme fatale and a slightly off-centre Mr Big at the centre of it. Though, this … Read more


Helmut Berger as Ludwig

As mad and excessive as the king it portrays, Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig – about the “mad” King Ludwig II (1845-1886) of Bavaria – is a vast, sprawling and endlessly sumptuous display of the excesses of a monarch who’s clearly off his chump. It got absolutely hammered by the US critics when it opened there in 1973 – Roger Ebert gave it one star and described it as “lethargic and persistently uninteresting”. The New York Times said it was “bereft of ideas”. And neither of them had seen the full-length four-hour version. At least 30 minutes had been lopped for its US distribution. Which is a pity, because the sheer unwieldy size of the … Read more

11 Harrowhouse

Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin

Misconceived but full of good things, 11 Harrowhouse (sometimes called Fast Fortune) is also a classic example of a film that didn’t do incredibly well at test screenings and then did even less well with real audiences after it was “improved”. It’s a paranoid screwball heist caper starring Charles Grodin as a smalltime diamond trader who decides to rob a big diamond house situated at 11 Harrowhouse Street in London. This racket run as if it were a venerable institution is headed by one Mr Meecham, or “Sir”, a man played with a curled lip and superciliousness at full blare by John Gielgud. Along for what looks like the sheer hell of it … Read more

Brief Encounter

Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 6 April Petrarch first sees Laura, 1327 On this day in 1327, one of the most celebrated romantic sightings in literature happened, when Francesco Petrarca, the scholar, poet and former priest often credited with starting the Renaissance, first caught sight of a young woman called Laura (possibly Laura de Noves) in church. He was immediately smitten. Laura was married and rebuffed his advances. So he poured his feelings into poetry, resulting in a book of 366 poems which later were called Il Canzoniere (Song Book). It is one of the most sustained works on unrequited love in the literary canon and … Read more

Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

Vivian Stanshall

“The star was an alcoholic, the writer was an alcoholic, the producer was an alcoholic and the director was an alcoholic.” I cribbed that line from David Cairns’s loving write-up about this film. It’s a quote from Neil Innes, the musician who worked with Vivian Stanshall in the cult 1960s comedy outfit The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Innes was talking about this film, Stanshall’s elegy to an England whose class-defined distinguishing features were being sandpapered away by social-democratic change. The concept first saw light of day on the Bonzos’ album Let’s Make Up and Be Friendly, then made its way on to BBC DJ John Peel’s radio shows in the 1970s. Essentially a … Read more