FILMS I WATCHED IN 2020, THE YEAR OF OUR PANDEMIC: PART 3

How’s it going?  Today is the first day of what is supposed to be an ever deeper lockdown for at least another 28 days.  Yay!  Like you, I’m so happy to continue isolating at home.  So many more films I can watch with nothing to interrupt the steady flow of visuals except for this seething feeling of ineptitude.  But pooh-pooh to that.  If you’re here and reading this, I might as well let you know what I’ve been watching:

One July day, I got a notice that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was inviting people who were interested in silent film to screen for free (or donation) a beautifully restored copy of The Deadlier Sex (1920).  It was supposed to start to stream at 1:00 p.m. but didn’t.  It began at 1:40 p.m. and although most people would have given up earlier, I persevered mainly because I had told a whole bunch of people and some of them were contacting me to see if I knew what was going on.  Since I’m relatively tech illiterate, I just kept trying all kinds of things until, holy-moly, it worked.  The film starred Blanche Sweet with Boris Karloff in his fourth film role, playing Jules Borney, villainous lumberjack.  Interestingly, Karloff, as you may well know, was a Brit who emigrated to Canada in 1909, and someone told me that he actually worked as a lumberjack at one point.  I’ll just take his word for it because that’s a fun idea.  The story is considered a women’s lib film, when Mary (Sweet), after her father’s death, takes over his railroad company and then has to deal with unscrupulous but handsome Harvey Judson (Mahlon Hamilton) who can’t be bothered to worry himself about dealing with a female.  So Mary does the only sensible thing she can, and has Judson kidnapped, ferrying him away to an isolated wooded area somewhere in the US of A.  When he meets up with her, he believes she is just some local damsel, and here’s where they both are introduced to Boris.  Eventually and inevitably Judson and Mary fall in love and all’s well that ends well.  Amazingly, never for a moment does he appear to be outraged or horrified that this woman had him kidnapped, nor did it remotely cross his mind to bring her to justice for this reprehensible act.  Instead, he just marries her.

Blanche Sweet fishing for something!

After the screening there were a number of interviews, one which included Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films who has a vast knowledge of film restoration, tells good stories with regard to his never-ending search for lost film, and who has presented related topics at Mostly Lost which I have attended and hope one day to attend again.  The other perk was Karloff’s daughter’s brief interview, along with her spouting a Bride-of-Frankenstein hairdo.

Boris looking perturbed–or is that menacing?

I shall digress to earlier in the year when I was in my Basil Dearden/Joseph Losey film watching phase, collectively viewing what was either in my DVD collection or screening on Kanopy.  Of all the films of Dearden’s that I have seen, my favourite is Dead of Night (1945), although Dearden was only one of its four directors.  I have seen this film approximately a dozen times, but suffice to say I have not watched it recently so I’m not going to talk about it.  But before I do mention in more detail what I recently watched, here’s some of his films I have seen in the past and recommend:  Pool of London (1951 – about racism), Violent Playground (1958 – gang violence) Sapphire (1959 – racism and murder), The League of Gentlemen (1960 – heist), and the movie that for some reason just didn’t work, All Night Long (1962 – jazz, racism and drugs).  Then there’s The Blue Lamp (1950) which established Dirk Bogarde as a bonafide movie star.  Dearden, along with Losey, liked utilizing Bogarde’s services and also engaged him for Victim (1961 – homosexuality), and The Mind Benders (1963 – brainwashing).  The two films I now watched to expand my Dearden horizons were The Captive Heart (1946) and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970).  Let’s get the latter out of the way.

Basil Dearden had as his partner Michael Relph and the two of them wrote the screenplay for The Man Who Haunted Himself.  In my estimation, it’s a mystery that never quite works, about a man, Harold Pelham, who eventually learns that he has a double after he’s involved in a motor accident.  He is continuously running into people—colleagues, acquaintances, lover, wife and children—who constantly tell him about things he did and said that he has no recollection of ever doing or saying.  Is it split personality or a doppelganger?  Who is the real Pelman?  Which of the two personalities is more likeable?  Roger Moore stars.  The actress who plays his lover Julie, Olga Georges-Picot, was quite beautiful and was definitely utilized for her lovely physicality as a shapely woman scantily clad which was expected by this time in film.  I happened to recognize her from The Day of the Jackal where I think she was also a bit light in the wardrobe department.  Anyway, I couldn’t say this Dearden film fell into my top 10.

But I did very much like Dearden’s The Captive Heart, which starred Michael Redgrave as a POW.  He had already escaped a concentration camp, changing his identity from his native Czech by assuming one of a dead British officer.  When first in the POW camp, the men there suspect him of being a spy after they notice him speaking German fluently with their captors.  As it turns out, he is wanted by the Gestapo and proves he is trustworthy.  But the story is two-fold and what is an equally interesting aspect to the tale is that the wife of the dead British officer is mistakenly informed that her husband is alive. The two of them establish a long-distance relationship through letter writing which continues during the years that he is a prisoner.  She believes that the man she is writing to is her husband, but that somehow he has become a much more sensitive and introspective man than the one she knew before the war.  Until this exchange of letters, she no longer loved or cared for her husband but eventually grows once again to love the man she thinks she is still married to.  He, of course, has fallen for her as well.  Whatever will happen when the war is over, I hear you wondering?

As I mentioned, I was alternating between Dearden and Joseph Losey films at this time, filling in the gaps of films that were available and that I had not previously seen—or at least not seen in a very long time.  The ones in his repertoire that I had already seen were the very good The Prowler (1951) with Evelyn Keyes and Van Heflin, The Sleeping Tiger (1954) with the highly utilized Bogarde, Losey’s most famous The Servant (1963) again with Bogarde as the slimy title character along with James Fox and Sarah Miles, the terrible Modesty Blaise (1966) which I briefly mentioned in an earlier post (also Bogarde and Terrance Stamp), The Go-Between (1971) with Julie Christie and Alan Bates, based on the novel which I read way back when I was in my late teens.  I still have Time Without Pity (1957) and The Lawless (1950) sitting on my shelf, but I think I’m going to wait awhile before watching those.  Whenever Toronto Film Society can screen again in theatres, I believe they plan to show The Lawless and I would rather see it initially on the big screen.

with Pat O’Brien

So, what I did watch of Losey’s at this time were three films.  The first was The Boy with Green Hair (1948) with Pat O’Brien, Robert Ryan, Barbara Hale and Dean Stockwell as the green-haired boy.  Besides having a poor copy where the colour had faded, I was disappointed with the story.  I’ve read about how the boy’s hair changing colour was an allegory symbolizing the stresses of children becoming orphans in wartime.  Or something along those lines as it’s been a while since I watched and read about this film.  But the story just appeared to be simple without any strong direction.

with Robert Ryan–and boy with no hair

The second film I watched, available on Kanopy, was The Criminal (aka The Concrete Jungle) (1960) which starred Stanley Baker, just two years after he made Violent Playground for Dearden.  You can see why I can get confused as to who directed what film.  Even though Losey was American, he began making films under pseudonyms in Europe and then Britain after he was blacklisted, which only helps to mix me up even more.  This reminds me that I didn’t mention watching Losey’s European film, Stranger on the Prowl (Imbarco a mezzanotte) (1952) which he made under the alias Andrea Forzano, the second-to-last film that Paul Muni starred in.  It was not a success.  When you think of Italian classics such as Vittorio De Sicca’s The Bicycle Thief or Sciuscià (Shoeshine), this film falls flat in sad comparison.  However, Concrete Jungle was much better, the story about a sophisticated hoodlum who hides stolen loot which both the police and local mob want to get their hands on.  The bulk of the story depicts what his incarcerated life is like after he returns to prison.  No honey and roses.

The last of Losey’s films that I watched was Accident (1967), screenplay by Harold Pinter, and a movie I remember seeing years ago at a TFS screening.  I had this memory of not particularly liking it, but this time round, being older, I viewed it differently and thought it was extremely good.  It stars Bogarde once again, and also features, again as well, Stanley Baker and a very young Michael York.  The basic story is about a university professor, Bogarde, suffering from midlife crisis who hankers after the foreign-student girlfriend of one of his students played by York.  The film opens with him investigating a car accident after hearing the sound of the crash which has just occurred directly outside the grounds of his estate.  This is followed by flashbacks of all that occurred leading up to that moment.  Why I particularly liked this film on this second viewing was the subtlety of Bogarde’s acting.  When no dialogue was forthcoming, his nuance was enough to understand the mindset of this at time’s charming, but more often nasty, manipulative, and needy man’s deeds.  A remarkably interesting portrait.

I end this chapter of, except for one, Dearden and Losey films and hope it interests you enough to watch some of those you haven’t already seen as well.  Like any director’s body of work, they can be hit or miss.

4 thoughts on “FILMS I WATCHED IN 2020, THE YEAR OF OUR PANDEMIC: PART 3

  1. I like how the Irish referred to their decades-long conflicts as The Troubles. We need a similar innocuous-sounding term for this era of lockdowns.

    Old movies seem like as good a way as any to spend time during The Predicament (how does that sound?). I run hot-and-cold on Dearden and Losey but I now want to rewatch ACCIDENT based on your write-up. Stanley Baker is always exciting, so THE CRIMINAL has been added to my to-watch list. The Baker-starring HELL DRIVERS was one of the most enjoyable movies I saw in 2020. (As if Stanley didn’t provide enough testosterone, it also has a small role by 27-year-old Sean Connery.)

    • Today I happened to see a lovely woman I know and couldn’t help but notice how this Predicament has affected her.

      I hear you with regard to Deaden and Losey. For me, it’s the films that worked that have kept me going back for a new experience and allow me to dismiss the ones I don’t like. I hope you do like ACCIDENT. Bogarde has to do battle with everyone so there’s contrast, and similarity, with Baker. If you haven’t seen VIOLENT PLAYGROUND with Baker, except for a couple of plot points which I can criticize, it’s quite a film, especially given that it was made in 1958.

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