Friday 12 January 2018

Discoveries of 2016

I made this list for Rupert Pupkin Speaks, but somehow it never got published last year.
So here it is. And yes, my writing style has changed. But this was written for a slightly different market.

Discoveries of the Year

Fedora (1978)
Bonkers Europudding potboiler with obligatory bad dubbing and Munich doubling as England and California. Directed by Billy Wilder, it resembles a cross between his own Sunset Boulevard and an episode of Tales of the Unexpected (complete with José Ferrer). William Holden plays a Hollywood producer who investigates the apparent suicide of his ex-lover, the titular ageless Garbo-esque movie queen (Marthe Keller) who he tried to rescue from a life of being cooped up in a castle in Crete with Ferrer's mad scientist with a gold earring, Frances Sternhagen's Stephanie Cole-esque maid and a mad old wheelchair-bound countess in a black veil. Then discovers that the mad Countess is an old, disfigured Fedora - played by Hildegard "the Lost Continent" Knef, driven mad by Ferrer's injections of animal semen, and that the seemingly ever-young Fedora is her daughter. And from here on it gets rough. Henry Fonda and Michael York appear as themselves, the latter becoming an object of infatuation with "Fedora" keeping Logan's Run pinups hidden behind the wallpaper. With Ferdy "Grace Brothers' Ten Pound Perfume" Mayne and Stephen "Gold Monkey" Collins as a Hollywood director and young Holden respectively, and Mario "Don Camillo" Adorf and Gottfried "the mad Soviet in Goldeneye" John appear as Greeks to please the German co-producers.

11 Harrowhouse (1975)
Interesting if not very good heist movie with Charles Grodin and Candice Bergen as idiotic Americans taking the mick of British society while embroiled in a heist with English lord Trevor Howard and dying banker James Mason with the help of a cockroach. Proper bloody British cast including Johnny Sconny Gielgud, Peter Vaughan, Jacks Watson and Watling, Clive "always the Governor" Morton, Glynn "Dave the Winchester" Edwards and Cyril Shaps. With 70s easy-listening theme par excellence by Peters and Lee.

Jacqueline Susann's Once is Not Enough (1975)
Turgid bonkbuster. Hollywood producer Kirk Douglas marries richest woman in the world Alexis Smith, while she shags Garbo-esque movie queen Melina Mercouri. Kirk's daughter Deborah Raffin is lured into an incestuous relationship with her cousin George Hamilton only to fall for sugar daddy David Janssen in a dry run for her later screen romance with Charles Bronson in Death Wish III. Highlight of the film is a bizarre appearance early on of BBC TV variety host/"Doctor Who" Time Lord president Leonard Sachs as a Swiss doctor with an outrageous accent coupled with his Good Old Days word-precision, presumably only appearing either as a favour to British director Guy Green or for a free holiday in Geneva.

Alf's Button Afloat (1937)
Wonderfully odd British comedy, basically a cinematic panto, complete with bare, traditionally panto-esque weird hybrid Chinese/Arabic generic "Eastern" setting in the opening. Alastair Sim is the camp, extremely un-Arabic genie who grants wishes based upon the misunderstandings of the British comedy troupe the Crazy Gang. "Well, stripe me pink!" 

The French Atlantic Affair (1979)
Technically a miniseries, but my first Warner Archive purchase, and what can I say, the Love Boat goes to Jonestown was how I described to fellow site contributors William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and I guess that'd be a sufficient comparison. Produced by Aaron Spelling like LB, it's set on a French ocean liner, the SS Festivale (played by the real life SS Festivale cruise ship, the difference is in size and scale and is obvious so they use the Queen Mary for bits too, I believe). It begins grey stock footage of New York Pier and a model cruise liner in full color pasted over, and from there, a crazed terrorist/UFO cult leader, Fr. Craig Dunleavy of the Church of the Cosmic Path (Telly Savalas, doing the same religious terrorist schtick he did in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, the Equalizer, even the Dirty Dozen to an extent) has gathered a hundred and something members of his cult as his undercover passengers to hold the ship hostage  (they are described at one point as ""paranoid primadonnas" disguised as inspectors to sell the ship to Texans to turn it into a floating Texan bordello) and with an army of creepily-permed henchmen including John Rubinstein's computer expert who has a Julia McKenzie lookalike wife (Rebecca "the Boogens" Balding) and believes that his computer has pointed to Telly being God, presumably due to his giant medallion. On board is Chad Everett as fellow medallion man Harold Columbine, a Harold Robbins roman a clef who has written a Sybil Fawlty-aimed bonkbuster about the Cosmic Path, which Dunleavy believes is his new bible or something. Michelle Philips of the Mamas and the Papas plays the cruise director love interest, Shelley Winters does her Poseidon schtick wearing the same hat she does in Tentacles, while her fellow Poseidon Adventurer Stella Stevens plays another cultist who dies while Savalas makes out with her and then drops her overboard. Carolyn "Morticia" Jones plays a middle-aged tourist dressed like one of the Rubettes, Louis Jourdan the captain, and meanwhile in France (mostly genuine shooting in Paris with a few ropey studio interiors), Jose "he can play any nationality" Ferrer is the President, and Donald Pleasence is the head of the French Atlantic line whose VP James Coco leaves due to fat jibes. French import Marie France Pisier (after her failed Hollywood career in The Other Side of Midnight) plays villainous ransom-taker Richard Jordan's hooker floozy, while Jean Pierre Aumont of the Surete and criminal computer expert John Houseman and his sidekick Ted Danson (yes, Ted Danson!) try to find a solution, which is solved by  the Disney-esque subplot thirteen year old Tristram Fourmile-alike son's proficiency with ham radio and his ham radio girlfriend played by Dana "Audrey Griswold II" Hill and her dog MacMutt. It's filled with nonsensical subplots to fill out the six hour runtime. Michelle and Chad are disguised in a niqab and french foreign legion outfit/st. Bernard costume - mistaken as Stella/BoPeep's lost lamb at the masquerade party. We get Dana Hill's home life including GW Bailey from Police Academy as a Texan cowpoke stereotype, who says, "Texas, where the girls are prettier than the cows". Pisier shares an apartment with a dingy M. Emmett Walsh (reunited with Jordan in Raise the Titanic the next year). To emphasise this is France, someone actually says 'allo 'allo! A bomb timer appears on screen William Castle-style. Kraut cowboy Horst "which one was he again?" Buchholz, the key to being a pub quiz champ, as a French doctor tries to help Jourdan turn off the bomb. There's a trip to the imaginary African city of Libwana, Brazaka, which is really a Californian desert airfield. And there's an astonishing scene where unmarried couples are rounded up for a photograph and are brutally gunned down on a veranda, all Dutch shots.

SPOILERS! The end is a double gut-punch. The ship explodes, with Mama Michelle still on board, seemingly, and then Shelley shoots Telly. THen, it turns out all on board the ship escaped in lifeboats, the Captain staying on board, and it ends with Michelle and Chad a couple at the funeral with an awful oil painting of Jourdan hung above, and the son finally meeting his girlfriend for the first time.

The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)
Made in Ireland, and aside from the star cameos, it's a good cast, a mix of Hollywood-based British talent, a few Irish stars e.g. the living embodiment of Dublin that was Noel Purcell, and even an appearance from British TV regular Bernard Archard in a rare US role. Seeing not-Sinatra as a gypsy entertained me, and the usage of Huston's beloved Ireland intrigued me, as I live relatively nearby from Cabinteely and Powerscourt, where they shot part of the film. And the sub-Children's Film Foundation end fox chase was a surprise.

White Dog (1982)
Sam Fuller's last major film, possibly his most interesting. Kristy McNichol is an actress who with the help of Burt Ives and black trainer Paul Winfield, tries to turn a dog trained by racists to attack blacks around. With a neat shock ending. Intelligent pulp. Saw it with the different but similarly maddening in a different way and very good Wake in Fright (1971). 

The Name of the Rose (1986)
Yes, I'd never seen this. Watched it and loved it. The intricate mystery, Christian Slater's accent, the roundup of international character talent (Vernon Dobtcheff! Yay!) and the weird Uncle Fester-y gay priest character who apparently was once in an episode of CBBC's Silas, it's all good. 

Britannia Hospital (1982)
I never much liked Lindsay Anderson. If? Iffy. Oh Lucky Man's confused, and so is this, but Graham Crowden's performance, possibly the only time he gets above the title billing (alongside Leonard Rossiter, and in a cast full of stars, no less) is possibly one of the most refreshing I've seen. It's a pity this didn't lead to a career as a modern horror icon, the Lionel Atwill of the 80s, playing mad scientists in various movies. And it has the most ridiculously stellar cast of British/Irish actors. Aside from the two supposed leads we have -  Joan Plowright! TP Mckenna! Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis! John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory! Richard Griffiths as Jimmy Savile! Peter Jeffrey again! Alan Bates as a corpse! Fulton Mackay! Vivian Pickles! Robbie Coltrane! Robin Askwith! Arthur Lowe! Frank Grimes! (yes, Simpsons fans, there's an actual actor called that, Irish too) Roland Culver! Liz Smith! Betty Marsden! Dandy Nichols! Tony Haygarth! Brian Glover! Valentine Dyall! And an appearance by a certain Mark Hamill. And the ending is just barking. 

The Hard Way (1979)
I love ITC. I love films made in my home of Bray. Why did I wait so long to see the film in the middle of the venn diagram? There aren't many Irish action films. The Hard Way (1979) is the nearest 1970s cinema got to a proper hard-boiled action thriller that Ireland can call its own. Made by Lew Grade's ITC in 1979, produced by the head of the lower budget end of Grade's film output, Jack Gill and his subsidiary Chips Productions, it was directed by John Boorman's regular second unit director Michael Dryhurst, and Boorman is credited as executive producer. It begins in a London underground station that looks like a redressed Dublin rail outlet, and then quickly moves to the unfortunately named Irish mercenary John Connor, played by Patrick McGoohan (remember, he was raised in Leitrim) dreaming of his wife (writer Edna O'Brien in a rare acting role) as he lies on the Sealink to Dun Laoghaire, handling Bank of Ireland cheques. He then visits O'Brien in their terraced house at Carlisle Terrace, Bray. Then cut to Lee Van Cleef as an American mercenary, McNeal arriving in Dublin airport before a meeting with he and McGoohan's fellow boss in the Shelbourne Hotel. Seeing Van Cleef wandering around Wicklow being cool alongside McGoohan, drinking in the same pub in Newtownmountkennedy and wandering around Luggala/Roundwood is worth the film itself. Seeing such icons walking about in the area where this writer grew up is surreal and adds something, so it'd be hard to be critical on the film, but it is a well-paced programmer, though never theatrically released. McGoohan's accent is a little slipshod at times, but he has enough presence, especially opposite Irish stalwarts such as Donal McCann, John Cowley, Kevin Flood (once again playing a Frenchman in 1979 Paris the same year as his role in the Doctor Who story "City of Death")and Joe Lynch. It is also unconventionally framed, narrated by O'Brien, pontificating on her husband's exploits. It also features Ireland doubling for Paris, as well as a tense Entebbe-esque attack amongst Dublin Airport. It's quite innovative and twisty,especially the funhouse-themed Van Cleef vs McGoohan ending, not unlike "The Prisoner" series that McGoohan had helped change television with. It is a lost gem of Irish cinema and television. 

Midnight Express (1978)
Another one I'd tried to watch, lost interest, but watched it again and sort ofloved it. Yes, it's Alan Parker, who bar the Commitments and the nostalgic filter of Bugsy Malone, tends to be quite insufferable, even though I find him quite an interesting interviewee. And yes, it doesn't promise to be the strange mix of action and intrigue in the dirty world of Turkish prison corruption the initial moments promise, but there are diamonds amongst the rough. And it has a fab cast, Brad Davis, Bo Hopkins, John Hurt, Peter Jeffrey as a mad Turkish paedophile, Kevork Malikyan around the time Mind Your Language started, Randy Quaid before he became a fugitive himself... Great soundtrack.
EDIT: Watched it again, and the cast save it. But it could have been better. And the actual escape in real life was much more exciting. 

Also runners-up - Silver Streak (1976), A Kid For Two Farthings (1955), 

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