Thursday, 18 December 2014

McLaglen Double Bill : Hellfighters (1968) Shenandoah (1965)

Today I found myself watching two films from the director Andrew V McLaglen who died in September of this year (read the obit I posted at the time here) No rhyme or reason to it, it was just that both films had been on Film 4.

On its release in 1968, Hellfighters was billed as John Wayne's most exciting action picture. Of course, it's anything but. This thinly fictionalised account of real life oil well firefighter Red Adair is far too talky, cliched and stultifying to be the most exciting action picture of anyone's career, let alone The Duke's. It's pure potboiler which wastes it's rather distinctive backdrop terribly.

It's a real shame a greater insight into the lives and technicalities of the men whose occupation it is to put out huge fires couldn't have been explored in any depth because that would have been a far more interesting story to have watched than the torpid tale of 'firefighter's widows' that Hellfighters actually is. Too much of the film concerns the oft spoken notion of 'this ain't no life for a lady', detaling as it does Wayne's own failed marriage to Vera Miles and the possibility of history repeating itself as his daughter Katherine Ross falls for his junior partner, the charisma free Jim Hutton.

Watch only for the very beautiful Katherine Ross who, under contract with Universal at the time, must have felt like she'd stepped into a different and out of touch world going from The Graduate to this.

I've got to say I've never really been that big a fan of John Wayne. I understand why for many he's an icon, I do so the appeal, but it has always been rather lost on me. However, my late grandfather had two heroes; Bing Crosby and John Wayne. As such I always feel a little bittersweet when I watch something featuring either of them, especially around Christmas time. It makes me feel close to him, but also makes me realise he's no longer around.

He loved a good western too, which brings me neatly to the second part of this double bill.

As I recently blogged here, I've always been a sucker for the American folk classic 'Oh Shenandoah'. My second McLaglen directed film of the day shares its name with that classic, Shenandoah, and it is also another film which features a performance by Katherine Ross, albeit it is a smaller role here than the one in Hellfighters, ironically playing the wife of a character played by John Wayne's son, Patrick.

Shenandoah is an impressive and respectable civil war drama concerning a firm but fair patriarch (the brilliant James Stewart) who is determined to keep his family out of the encroaching warfare but ultimately find themselves caught up in the Confederates last stand through sheer bad luck and misfortune. 

A strong Vietnam allegory, McLaglen's film from a screenplay by James Lee Barrett, doesn't shirk from its responsibility in addressing the futility of war and how, in their opinion, good fathers should keep their families at home and close. It's just a shame then that as the film progresses, McLaglen - never the subtlest of directors - feels the need to spell out everything to the viewer in an increasingly in your face manner; be it the merciless bloodshed (and suggested raping) the wild scavengers AWOL from their platoon undertake - which gives us a flavour of the fondness for grim tones he would later adopt for his 70s features - or the reunion between a Confederate boy and his childhood friend (a black youth now in a Yankee uniform) on the battlefield - which is clearly meant to be touching but he hits us over the head with such sentimental close ups of both actors you can't help but laugh and wonder if there was more than just friendship going on!

Shenandoah is definitely the strongest of the pair and one I'd recommend to anyone. It doesn't matter if you're not that big a fan of westerns, as the film works well enough as a timeless family saga and the desires we have to keep those we love protected and safe from harm. James Stewart gives an exemplary performance although some of his family aren't the best depicted or indeed fully dimensional characters. That said, the striking Rosemary Forsyth as his only daughter is especially captivating and gives Ross a run for her money.

RIP Virna Lisi

Italian Goddess Virna Lisi has sadly passed away

Beautiful actress, but as you can see she wasn't afraid to look silly once in a while

Out On Blue Six Xmas : The Pretenders

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Christmas Playmate


Ellen Stratton, Playmate for December 1959

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Out On Blue Six Xmas : Thea Gilmore

It's a shame Christmas songs are out of fashion in the charts these days and that we still play the same old perennial faves because this has been one of the very best new Christmas songs of recent years. If there's any justice this will find its moment sooner rather than later, but for now I play it every Christmas regardless. It's Thea Gilmore and That'll Be Christmas

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Wordless Wednesday : Christmas Lights

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Out On Blue Six Xmas : Kate Rusby

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Dancing In The Dark (1990)

Dancing In The Dark is a short Channel 4 film from 1990 that seems almost completely forgotten, which is a shame as it stars a very young Douglas Henshall adopting a 'Cor Blimey' cockney accent.

An intriguing though not especially successful little drama, Dancing in the Dark deals with the contemporary issue of AIDS/HIV as well as racial tension.  A young upwardly mobile Asian woman (Tania Rodrigues) should be meeting up with friends to watch Bruce Springsteen in concert, but car troubles sees her stranded in a pub where she meets an initially lairy and mouthy former skinhead (Henshall). Gradually over the night the pair share their stories with one another, specifically the seemingly loutish male who turns out to be HIV positive. However neither this nor his former Bovver Boy behaviour deters the girl who begins to find him attractive and, at the short's close, exchanges phone numbers with the words "You best call me before I call you"

The shadow of My Beautiful Laundrette hangs over this offering somewhat, specifically in its notion of appearances being deceiving and the plot of former skinhead meets Asian, they fall in love... But it's achingly earnest, with clanging dialogue somewhat stiffly delivered making it feel like some kind of Public Information Film; HIV isn't necessarily a death sentence upon your love life seeming to be the film's message. Good intentions yes, but good intentions don't always make for good entertainment.

Seek it out on YouTube. It's only eleven minutes long, so don't be put off by the 30 minute running time - the user has just uploaded it three times for some reason!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Out On Blue Six Xmas : Kate Bush

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Specs Appeal

Radio 1 DJ Alice Levine

I'm too old now to tolerate the nonsensical Hoxton hipsterish toss on the BBC's premier radio station (in fact, I think I've always been too old for Radio 1; only ever enjoying John Peel and Mark and Lard) but I must admit to having a soft spot for Alice Levine, the pretty vintage clothing wearing poppet who recently appeared on the Children in Need charity single orchestrated by Gareth Malone. I've never heard a single moment of her show, but damn she is gorgeous!


Raquel Welch

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Out On Blue Six Xmas : Fat Les

Yup, Christmas is now upon us so it's time for Out On Blue Six to get a wee bit festive. Starting with this fun 1998 song Naughty Christmas (Goblin in the Office) from Keith Allen, Alex James, Lisa Moorish and Damien Hirst aka Fat Les.

See if you can spot the many famous faces at this crazy office Christmas party (including a back in the day Zoe Ball, phwoar!, Sara Stockbridge and Joe Strummer!)

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Girls With Guns


Candy Barr

The House On Carroll Street (1988)

Whatever happened to Kelly McGillis?

I've always rather liked her in films, but watching The House On Carroll Street I was truly struck by the strong and largely independent leading lady role she embodied. There's a touch of the Ingrid Bergman in Hitch's Notorious about her, which sums up perfectly the kind of influence Peter Yates' film, from a script by Walter Bernstein, has; good old fashioned thrillers from the 40s and 50s which features an innocent getting tangled up in a deadly web of intrigue. Indeed you could watch this with the colour turned down on your TV and almost convince yourself you're watching a movie made back then. It's that good.

The House On Carroll Street is a very engaging, beautifully evocative 1950s set suspense thriller set around the backdrop of the McCarthy witch hunts (Bernstein himself was a blacklisted writer, having fallen foul of the HUAC) McGillis stars as a young politically engaged picture editor for Life magazine who loses her job when she refuses to testify before the committee. She finds work reading to an old lady (Jessica Tandy in an all too infrequent supporting role) on Carroll Street, but is hampered by a near constant tail from two FBI agents, including the laconic loping Jeff Daniels. One day McGillis goes out into the yard and overhears an angry conversation in German from the window of the house opposite and recognises one man in particular in the heated debate as the man who interrogated her on the committee; a slickly duplicitous Mandy Patinkin.

Piecing things together with the help of the young and frightened German she overheard being threatened, she uncovers the HUAC's plan to smuggle in Nazi war criminals to America to share their technical know how and experiences to help strengthen their fight against communism. 

McGillis is superb in this and really suits the 1950s style. She's a tall broad shouldered amazon who carries each outfit of with considerable aplomb. I don't think I'd ever truly noticed how big she was until this movie; she's evenly matched here with Daniels but she must have looked like a beast next to diminutive cinematic irritant and alien believer Tom Cruise in Top Gun. It's interesting and satisfying that Bernstein chooses someone whom the upper echelons of 50s America viewed with such contemptuous mistrust to be the most trustworthy, good and rational figure in this labyrinth of deceit and there's a pleasing irony to see Daniels' FBI agent come to realise that the 'bad' person he is investigating is in fact good, whilst his superiors are really the evil ones.

As befits the strong female role in the film, Daniels is not your traditional hero. He refuses to carry a gun, comes off worse in every fight, doesn't really save the day and doesn't even get the girl. His only really impressive, heroic acts are the discovery of a bomb in McGillis' stove (which he cannot diffuse because he nearly failed the bomb disposal course) and principally his growing faith and belief in McGillis and her suspicions. It's a refreshing depiction of a leading man - playing second fiddle to the heroine - and it's a testament to the likeable, open faced Daniels that he pulls it off without ever appearing weak, ineffectual or surplus to the proceedings.  With the final season of HBO's (divisive but hey I absolutely LOVE it) drama The Newsroom ending on Sky Atlantic this week I can predict a glut of Daniels films to come, just to keep my fix going.

Silent Sunday : Lanterns

Saturday, 13 December 2014

RIP Tom Adams

Another sad passing in the world of entertainment, veteran actor Tom Adams has died following a battle with cancer aged 76.

Their really isn't many left like Tom, a real saturnine smoothie, urbane and square of jaw who, realising perhaps that such a stereotype was on the wane, exploited it's naff old world charms really well in three James Bond spoof movies of the late 60s, Licensed To Kill (aka The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World) from 1965, Where The Bullets Fly the following year and lastly Somebody's Stolen Our Russian Spy (aka OK Yevtushenko) in 1969. Adams starred as Charles Vine - the brainchild of exploitation director Lindsay Shonteff  - the man the British government turns to when their first choice James Bond is too busy. Shonteff would make a further three films featuring Vine - 1970's Number One Of The Secret Service, Licensed To Love and Kill from 1979 and finally, 1990's Number One Gun - but none of these featured Adams and Vine was played by Nicky Henson, Gareth Hunt and Michael Howe respectively.

Adams had a long career starring in the likes of Emergency Ward 10, The Avengers, The Persuaders, UFO, General Hospital, The Onedin Line and Doctor Who. He also starred as Dai Nimmo, aka 'Diversions', in The Great Escape.

In later life he became something of an adverts king and much desired voice over man. His dark vocals could be heard on E4 whilst he appeared in person in ads for Aero, Dixons, Stannah Stairlifts and perhaps most famously for the endless, eternal DFS sale.... 

DFS - Dreadful Fucking Sofas haha! That ad was from 1994, remember it as clear as day, and yes - the sale is still on!

RIP, here's Sammy Davis Jr with the theme tune to his first outing as Charles Vine (last heard in the big screen adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

Out On Blue Six : Liv Tyler

Lovely Liv covering the INXS hit Need You Tonight for a Givenchy perfume ad campaign.

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Queen Jane Approximately

Jane Russell

Friday, 12 December 2014

Out On Blue Six : Sissel

This beautiful rendition of the traditional American folk song, Oh Shenandoah, is sung by Norwegian soprano Sissel and featured in this week's penultimate - and, in some quarters, somewhat controversial - episode of The Newsroom

Beautiful, right?

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The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

When Christopher Jefferies appeared before the cameras of Sky News and refused to participate in the doorstep inquiries regarding his statement to the police in light of the discovery of the body of his tenant Jo Yeates on Christmas Day 2010, many were struck by the strangeness of the man in the parka and polo neck; his brittle wispy haired comb over, his thin elongated appearance matching his equally thin elongated speech patterns. Exactly how many immediately associated the strangeness with a notion of guilt remains unclear, but what is undeniably, shocking clear is how quickly, how cruelly the media equated his manner with guilt and, setting themselves up as judge jury and executioner proceeded to defame and slander his character from that moment on.

In a society that views anything different as suspicious this was enough for the TV and the newspapers to convict him. It was enough too for the police to arrest him, suggesting that their mindset hasn't changed very much at all since the arrest of Stefan Kiszko in 1975.

Christopher Jefferies only crime was to be himself. 

The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies is a two part TV film by Roger Michell (himself a former pupil of Jefferies) from a script by Peter Morgan that broadcast on ITV on consecutive nights, Wednesday and Thursday this week. As an exemplary and absorbing exploration into the line that was crossed by both the media and the police of Avon and Somerset, which chewed up and spat out an innocent if curious bachelor, it is a deeply moving and thought provoking triumph. Jason Watkins, long since a favourite character actor of mine thanks to his versatility, captures the uniqueness of the haunted Jefferies from his near destruction right through to his subsequent triumph as an exonerated man and as a campaigner for Hacked Off, the organisation for a free and accountable press and stronger regulations within the media industry. His performance is captivating, embodying the quirks and eccentricities of the man in a natural seamless manner. It is mannered, camp, gentle and funny and the protective sense the production has of such an individual is palpable throughout. In many ways this is a paean to the British eccentric, its message warning us of the dangers of not being inclusive and accommodating as a society.

A tale of two halves, the first details Jefferies arrest and his ordeal in the interim between Christmas and the New Year whilst the second explores his subsequent thrust into the limelight to campaign against the victimisation of others similar to himself, complete with a new look he took on advice of his friends. The Leveson Inquiry scenes feature a wonderful cameo from fellow Hacked Off campaigner Steve Coogan as himself, offering words advice to the nervous Jefferies. I've seen some minor complaints suggesting too little attention was given to Jo Yeates, but  this isn't her story; her tragic and untimely, violent death at the hands of neighbour Vincent Tabak is merely the catalyst that plunged Jefferies into the depths and out the other end. Personally I think the production pays a respectful and sensitive tribute to the young girl in featuring her in only one scene. And speaking of brief appearances, look out for Michell's wife the splendid actress Anna Maxwell Martin in a minor role as a bakery store assistant. I was also impressed by Shaun Parkes' turn as Jefferies solicitor; again a versatile actor whose talents aren't as rated as perhaps they should be.

The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies commenced the Christmas season of TV with style.