Frieda (1947): One of the Best Films You Probably Haven’t Seen

FRIEDA, holding hands from left: Mai Zetterling, David Farrar, 1947

To view Frieda click here.

It’s funny how little things can make us happy, and I’m pretty giddy that we have a wealth of cinematic riches available on FilmStruck right now highlighting the very underappreciated work of director Basil Dearden. We’ve got eleven of his films, running the entire spectrum of his career, and you may recall we’ve featured several of this titles on Streamline over the past few months including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), and All Night Long (1963).

However, Dearden got his start as a secret weapon of sorts for the beloved Ealing Studios, whose remarkable run of British classics spans multiple genres with an incredible arsenal of actors and directors at its disposal. Though he’d proven his dexterity with silly wartime comedy thanks to the well-crated The Goose Steps Out (1942) for Ealing, Dearden really proved his value with a pair of back-to-back anthology films: the evocative fantasy The Halfway House (1944) and the most influential horror omnibus ever made, Dead of Night (1945). In the latter case, Dearden was just one of four directors brought on board, but his helming of the flawless framing device (with a group of strangers in a country house swapping stories of the uncanny) couldn’t have been more perfect. Dearden also directed the shortest of the tales about a creepy premonition involving an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse, but it’s the connective tissue that really shows off Dearden’s early talents as he slowly winds the audience up to a nightmarish finale no viewer has ever forgotten, a virtuoso concerto of disturbing visuals that must have left postwar attendees gasping for air. [...MORE]

Spies Among Us: Another Country (1984)

ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984) To view Another Country click here.

“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

I Vow to Thee, My Country, Sir Cecil Spring Rice & Gustav Holst

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class British university students were recruited as Soviet spies. Today they’re referred to as the Cambridge Five although it’s likely that their numbers were much larger. At the time that they became Soviet sympathizers, Britain and Russia were still allies but the United Kingdom was facing a monumental crisis. Millions were jobless and the economy was in the throes of a deep depression while imperialism and fascism were on the rise. The Cambridge Five responded by embracing Marxism, championing the working classes and opposing fascism, which was particularly rampant within the privileged social circles they traveled in. But times changed and as WWII erupted the alliance between Britain and the U.S.S.R. began dramatically shifting and morphing according to the winds of war. The spies were eventually found out and between 1950 and 1980 their crimes made headlines. The news stunned the British public and sent shockwaves through the establishment. What compelled these sons of fortune to adopt Marxism and become spies for Russia? Another Country (1984) scrutinizes the autocratic British school system that may, or may not, have motivated their betrayal of king and country. [...MORE]

An Unusual Friendship: Tiger Bay (1959)

TIGER BAY

To view Tiger Bay click here.

Tiger Bay is one of my all-time favorite films that I made. I still can’t get over the thrill I got when I first saw Hayley on the screen, with those wonderful big eyes … She was an ideal little person to work with because you knew … when you just looked through the lens at her that the camera loved her … You just knew that she had such a rapport with the camera and that’s what filmmaking is about – the rapport between the camera and the artist. It’s that magic that you can not explain. You either have it or you don’t. The very best actor or actress in the world, if the camera doesn’t love her, half the performance has gone.” – J. Lee Thompson

Twelve-year-old Hayley Mills made her screen debut in Tiger Bay (1959) playing Gillie, a rambunctious doe-eyed orphan living with her aunt in the British working-class neighborhood of Tiger Bay. When Gillie unwittingly witnesses a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) shoot his girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell), she steals the gun to impress her young playmates and protect the charismatic killer. Over the course of the film Gillie and the murderer develop an unusual bond while trying to evade a determined police superintendent (John Mills) and escape prosecution.

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Equal Shares for All: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, THE (1961)

To view The League of Gentlemen click here.

The League of Gentlemen (1960) contains one of my favorite moments from postwar British cinema; a group of ex-soldiers carrying submachine guns plow through London’s narrow streets with their faces concealed behind gas masks. Instead of dodging an attack they are preparing to rob a bank and their military uniforms have been replaced by civilian clothing. These masked figures are the stuff of nightmares and conjure up horrific images associated with two world wars that nearly brought the British empire to its knees. Despite their ferocious appearance and felonious behavior, the men are not monsters. They are the forgotten casualties of war. Battle-scarred and bitter, they have returned home to discover that their prospects are dwindling. Jobs are scarce and survival is difficult during peacetime when your skill set is limited to sharpshooting, military strategy and bomb construction. Is it any wonder that they have chosen a life of crime to secure a future for themselves?

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Losey Let Loose: The Criminal (1960)

CRIMINAL, THE (1960)

To view The Criminal click here.

Joseph Losey is one of my favorite directors so I was thrilled to discover that his work is currently being spotlighted at FilmStruck. While looking through the collection of films available to stream I was inspired to revisit The Criminal a.k.a. Concrete Jungle (1960), a low-budget British crime thriller about an underworld kingpin named Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) who organizes a high-stakes robbery that goes terribly wrong. When he finds himself behind bars a second time, Bannion has to rely on his brawn, brains, bravado and faith to survive.

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Little Big Strongman

LONG GOOD FRIDAY, THE (1980)

(You want spoilers? We got spoilers! Tons of ‘em! Beware!)

He’s not very big in stature but thinks he is. Put another way, he realizes he can be physically imposing but likes to think his true power comes from his ability to sway people to his side, including wealthy foreigners who, he insists, will pay for his real estate project. They’re even coming to meet with him to discuss it and, as far as he is concerned, he is at the top of his game. This is his shining moment, when he will consolidate power and respect, and finally show everyone how much they’ve underestimated him. Then, for reasons this little man cannot understand, his world begins to fall apart. Hidden enemies lurk behind every door and, even though it’s clearly a lie, he trys to assure everyone around him that he’s hugely popular and everything is under control. That’s Harold Shand, gangster with a chip on his shoulder, at the center of the 1979 crime thriller The Long Good Friday.

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Beatlemania: A Family Tradition

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

My mom’s first experience with The Beatles was like most people of her generation; her first glimpse of the mop-topped foursome was on February 9, 1964, on America’s favorite Sunday night pastime, The Ed Sullivan Show. Mom was only nine years old and hadn’t heard The Beatles’ music, and wasn’t even quite sure who they were, but the two-set spotlight on Sullivan was enough to excite her. Her friend Jeannie called her on the phone in advance of the Sullivan episode and told her she just had to watch this amazing band. Jeannie, likely telling my mom, “They’re cute! They dress alike, and have these adorable haircuts…and they talk so different!” Jeannie was the same age as Mom, but had siblings much older than her, so she knew about the band because of them. Taking her friend’s advice to heart, Mom made sure to tune in for The Beatles’ performance. As soon as Paul sang those first few words from “All My Loving,” the young girls on television and at home collectively lost it. Moved by the spirit, Mom began flailing her arms and kicking her legs. In her frenzied state, she failed to notice that one of her shoes was dangerously close to flying off her foot. Next to the chair she was sitting in sat her mom, my dear Granny, undoubtedly smoking a cigarette with the ash perfectly curled on the end, with a cup of coffee perched on the flat wooden arm of the sofa. (Apparently my grandparents always had a pot of coffee on and drank the stuff around the clock.) Mom continued to kick her feet until her shoe flew off her foot, hitting Granny’s full coffee cup, causing it to fall and shatter all over the floor. According to Mom, my Granny thought the whole situation was a hoot, which sounds about right.

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Angry Cinema: The British New Wave

LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, THE (1962)

In the late 1950s, Britain was a country in transition. The destruction caused by two world wars remained evident but the economy was booming and unemployment was at an all-time low. Popular music was bringing diverse groups of individuals together and creating a sense of unity among the youth. Despite the overall prosperity, the stark differences separating the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ were more apparent than ever thanks to the integration of the social classes. The underlying unrest and dissatisfaction erupted in labor strikes, anti-nuclear protests and violent race riots eventually finding expression in the film movement we now call The British New Wave.

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That Ealing Touch

Alec Guinness in The Lavendar Hill Mob
If you know the name “Ealing Studios,” chances are it makes you think of a string of astonishing comedies the British studio cranked out in the decade or so after World War II, usually starring Alec Guinness, including such essentials as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, seen above and airing this Saturday, September 10), The Ladykillers (1955), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and Whiskey Galore! (1949). If you haven’t seen any of those, put them at the top of your “to watch” list pronto! However, there’s much, much more to the Ealing name than most Americans ever saw, and only in recent years has it been possible to really appreciate the scope of its output.  [...MORE]

Two on the Run: DEADLY STRANGERS (1975)

dsp

In case you haven’t noticed, Sterling Hayden is TCM’s Star of the Month and I’ve enjoyed catching up with the tall, blond and brawny actor’s filmography on Wednesday nights. Today Hayden is best remembered by film lovers for his memorable roles in a number of classic noirs and westerns that air on TCM regularly as well as subsequent standout parts in Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), Coppola’s THE GODFATHER (1972) and Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1973).

Late in life, Hayden also made a brief but notable appearance in an unusual thriller called DEADLY STRANGERS (1975), which I was compelled to revisit again over the weekend. Directed by the talented Sidney Hayers (CIRCUS OF HORRORS; 1960, BURN WITCH BURN; 1962, THE TRAP; 1966, REVENGE; 1971, A BRIDGE TOO FAR; 1977, Etc.) and starring Hayley Mills along with Simon Ward, this low-budget British horror effort may not rate as one of Hayden’s finest hours among his devoted fans but I think the film is worthy of reconsideration due to its smart direction and probable influence on beloved horror classics including John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN (1978).

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