The League of Gentlemen

This film from 1960 was a favourite of mine when I was growing up.  I must have seen it many times over the years, always on television and never minding that it was in black and white as the original film was.  Growing up in the 60s, one of the big differences between cinema and television was that the ‘pictures’ were always in colour while television was black and white. The films they showed on television back then were nearly all black and white so we didn’t miss out!

This film starred the great Jack Hawkins as a former army officer who hatches a plan to rob a bank.  He enlists other former officers, all in difficult circumstances who use their skills to gain entry to an army base in Dorset where they acquire weapons and supplies.

The film is a caper.  It was directed by Basil Deardon whose cast included Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick, David Lodge, Bryan Forbes and Roger Livesey.  Bryan Forbes also wrote the screenplay.

Such is the fun of the film that I wanted the thieves to get away with it.  However, the police are on to them and the ending, when it comes, is very clever.  The telephone ringing in the penultimate scene is highly effective.

Carry on Teacher

The final scene of this film moved me when I was a child.  It all seems a little sentimental now but the moment when Ted Ray stepped out to face his pupils who had wrecked his chance of promotion to prevent him from leaving them is one of my all time favourite film moments.

I was a fan of the early Carry On films.  This 1959 film was the third in the series that eventually totalled thirty-one.  I saw it on British television in the 60s since it was released in cinemas before I was born!  The black and white story of an ambitious headteacher who sees the arrival of inspectors as his opportunity to snatch the headship of a brand new school is a good one.

Two of his pupils overhear him telling a teacher that, should he get the job, there will be opportunities for others.  They decide that the only way to keep their headteacher is to ensure the inspection is a disaster and they enlist their friends to make sure it is.  The comedy comes from the thwarted efforts of the head to impress and the inability of the teachers to cope with the breakdown of order.

In the current British education system the inspectorate is a malign growth and there is little to amuse there but this is from a kinder age and the story leads to the final scene which I loved as a boy.

The ‘Carry On’ films continued into the 60s and 70s and I loved most of them until the bawdy humour became distasteful.  Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtry were favourites of mine but, in this film, Ted Ray was the star. It was his only ‘Carry on’ role.

‘Carry On Teacher’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Film 74

The announcement at the weekend of the death of Barry Norman was another sad passing of someone from my early years who played a significant part in building the person I am today; my interests were formed in my teenage years and have strengthened over the years.  Barry Norman was on one of the first experts I came across who talked to me about film.

As I remember it, Film 74 was a fortnightly programme broadcast by BBC television on a Sunday night.  Each other week, the book programme ‘Read All About It’ was screened.  I liked both!

The format was simple but effective.  Norman sat in a studio and talked to the camera about the releases of the week and clips were shown.  This was enough for me.  His comments were cogent and his tastes were mainstream but the idea of someone, who knew more than I did, telling me about something I wanted to know more about was just the sort of thing I needed.

I read in his obituaries that Barry Norman presented the programme from 1972 until 1998.  The title of the series made the small adjustment with each new year.  I first became aware of it in 1974 and watched until the late 70s when I left for university.  The programme became weekly at some stage and, although I still watched occasionally, my time in front of a television diminished and I found other experts on film to turn to.

However, Film… was part of my growing up.  It was one of the first places I realised that ‘foreign films’ were worth finding out and, each New Year, his programme of his favourite films of the year was a must see.  In essence, this is what made him the very best of critics:  he talked about what he liked and why and was unapologetic about the idea that the list was personal.  One person, talking to camera- amazing television.  They should do that again.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

This film, while not destined for classic status, reminded me of the Merchant Ivory films of the 80s when historical settings showed Britain as a good-looking country at the same time as reminding us that the views and standards of the time are best left in the past.  In this case, the story from the early part of the Twentieth Century is based on the real case of an Indian man whose genius with number leads him from his home to Cambridge where he studies with the famous G.H Hardy.

BlogManInfinity

Srinivasa Ramanujan was born into a poor family in Madras, India.  He performed menial tasks to earn a living but found beauty in mathematics.  His employers realised he had exceptional skills and used him for accounting purposes until they decided his personal journals on number should reach a wider public.  This led to Britain, Cambridge and Professor Hardy at Trinity College.

The stuffy and hierarchical nature of Cambridge is well portrayed along with the stereo-type that academics are not quite part of the real world.  Real enough, though, is the racism Ramanujan faces in pre- First World War Britain.  Not only are the dons suspicious of his ability but they also see him as an upstart for moving into their world without moving through the proper channels.

There is a sub-plot set against the First World War showing how academics split in terms of their support for the war.  Key figures from that time took different paths: Bertrand Russell to pacifism (and consequently to prison) and John Edensor Littlewood to the army (to help with ballistics).

Dev Patel played Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons played Hardy, the significant difference in their ages not reflected in the real story!  It works as a film, though, because it shows that some people will fight against racism and pursue their ambitions despite it.  It also shows that academic endeavour is worth the years of struggle.  For Ramanujan, the return to India, while in triumph as an accepted academic, was personally difficult and he did not have a long life.

Jeremy Irons is always worth watching and so, it seems, is Dev Patel.  This film is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Chariots of Fire

I love the films that take true events which are little known and turn them into stories which illustrate a larger theme.  ‘Chariots of Fire’ is one such film.  I saw it while a student in Oxford and, partly because of that time and place, it has fixed itself in my memory.

The tale of two runners who come from very different backgrounds to compete for Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics is a compelling one, especially as it is the story of two outsiders who enter the heart of the British establishment.  Eric Liddell is the Scottish son of missionaries who believes running is one way he can show his love of God.  Harold Abrahams is an outsider because of his Jewish religion.

Both men are selected for the team, alongside members of the aristocracy and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge.  The team is the cream of the establishment’s sporting class and the film shows the difference between those born to rule and those who earn their place through effort and talent.

When Liddell and Abrahams run in the same race, Liddell wins causing much anguish to Abrahams.  He takes on a coach, a move that offends some as beneath the dignity of a sporting gentleman.  The true drama takes place in Paris, though, when the Olympics are staged.  When Liddell learns that his race is to be held on a Sunday, he withdraws on faith grounds. Despite strong pressure from the Olympic committee and the Prince of Wales, he refuses to race and it looks as if he will forego the opportunity to win a medal.  The day is saved, though, by Lord Lindsay who offers to stand aside so that Liddell can race on a Thursday in what would have been his heat.

It is well documented that both Liddell and Abrahams won gold medals but the manner of their winning makes a great film.  Ian Charleston played Eric Liddell and Ben Cross played Harold Abrahams in a film written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson.

‘Chariots of Fire’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

The Last Emperor

This British- Italian film from the 80s is the type of film they don’t make any more, or at least they don’t make them in the same way anymore.  The most amazing thing about this film is the scale; all crowd scenes were done without any special effect, just human beings!

It is the story of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, from his ascent to the throne to his fall at the hands of the Chinese Communists. He was imprisoned and re-educated so that he could take his place in the new China.  One of the themes the film covers so well is the transition from one form of prison to another, the Forbidden City being as much of a cage as the one he later found himself in.

Bernardo Bertolucci directed the film and co- wrote it with Mark Peploe but the producer Jeremy Thomas, the British independent producer who saw the project through to completion despite many obstacles. It was the first western film authorised to film in the Forbidden City and, despite the subject matter, was supported by the Chinese government, at least in the sense that they did not ban it.

John Lone played Puyi as an adult and Peter O’Toole appeared as the tutor to the young emperor.  As the film is told in a series of flashbacks we see the way political forces have always determined the course of Puyi’s life.  From the start of the twentieth century through to 1967, when he died, we see how one life reflects political changes.

The film won nine American Academy awards as well as the 1989 BAFTA for Best Film.  ‘The Last Emperor’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

Oliver!

There is a story behind this film for me, and part of the reason it is in my hinterland.  I wanted to see this film version of the stage musical by Lionel Bart when it was released at the end of the 60s but getting my parents to take me to the cinema was quite a job back then.  Instead, I decided to watch it when it was broadcast on British television some time in the mid 70s. It was a time when the family television set was colour but we also had a small black and white one upstairs.

On Christmas Day, ‘Oliver!’ was broadcast in the afternoon when I knew my parents would be asleep.  I didn’t take into account my older brother and his domination of the television and there was no way he was going to let me watch a musical!  So I was banished to a bedroom to watch what was left of Carol Reed’s superb and joyous film in less wonderful black and white.

The story continues:  a few years later, but still before video and DVD,  I noticed in the newspaper that a local cinema was showing ‘Oliver!’ for one night only.  I went along only to find myself at the end of a very long queue and I didn’t get in.  I eventually saw the whole film in splendid isolation in the late 70s when I had access to a colour television.  It was a fantastic hour or two.

Lionel Bart’s musical is wonderful, the songs especially, and the trimming of the story to shorten it and clear it of the complexities of the Dickens novel made it stronger.  Mark Lester was the perfect innocent and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger made it hard for anyone else to follow in this role.  Ron Moody as Fagin was the charismatic heart of the film despite playing a morally dubious character.

‘Oliver!’ remains a fantastic film despite its age and I agree with the film critic I admire Xan Brooks who stated that this film improved on the weaknesses of the original Dickens novel, weaknesses exposed in a novel that started life as a weekly serial.  I didn’t read the actual book until several years later and was surprised by the ‘extra’ parts of the story.  It is hard to think now of the story of Oliver Twist without also thinking of the songs from this film.

‘Oliver!’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?