Spy Games: Dirk Bogarde – The Reluctant International Man of Mystery

British actor Dirk Bogarde never played James Bond but he did appear in a handful of interesting spy films made during the ‘60s and ‘70s. He may not have resembled the tough, no-nonsense brute that many associate with 007 but Bogarde’s devilish charm, quick wit, understated elegance and roguish good looks made him a good candidate for playing the British secret service agent or his evil nemesis. For my latest installment of Spy Games I thought I’d take a look at the various spy spoofs and espionage thrillers that Bogarde appeared in and discuss their questionable merits. While some might find Bogarde’s contributions to the spy genre unimpressive, I think the following films are indispensable fun and fascinating footnotes in the actor’s long and impressive career although Bogarde himself would probably disagree with me.

Most of the spy films Bogarde appeared in weren’t particularly successful at the box office and critics rarely gave them the time of day. In numerous letters and books that the actor published he openly admits that he often took these roles to pay the bills. There was little motivation to make these movies besides a paycheck but today they’re testaments to Bogarde’s incredible professionalism, renowned talent and passion for his craft, which is apparent in every one of these movies. No matter how flimsy the script was or how disengaged his fellow cast members became, Bogarde proves himself to be a consummate professional. He’s an actor’s actor if there ever was one.

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Hate Binges: The Big Heat and The Lawless

The post-WWII economic expansion exploded in 1950, as the GI Bill’s low mortgage rates stoked a housing boom and pent-up consumer demand propped up retail. Success was there for the taking, but not for all. Two early 50s films that are hitting home video in impressive transfers,  Joseph Losey’s The Lawless (1950, on DVD 5/29 from Olive Films) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953, now out on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time), documented some of the anxieties caused by this enormous upheaval in American life, what would be the start of the greatest stretch of economic growth in U.S. history. More money meant more crime, and The Big Heat is a nightmare rendering of the American Dream, as good cop  Glenn Ford loses his nuclear family and just goes nuclear. The Lawless is an earnest morality play about the plight of migrant fruit pickers in Southern California, doing the work Americans left for office gigs (by 1956 a majority of U.S. workers held white rather than blue collar jobs).

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Better Older Than Younger

As Hollywood’s newest stars get younger and I get older, I find comfort and inspiration in the career arcs of certain actors who might have made a big splash in their youth but stayed the course and became supreme masters of their craft. Some like Dick Powell totally reinvented themselves with an entirely new persona while others like Shelley Winters went the character actor route, grabbing some of the best roles for women available while working with the greatest directors. Here are just a few that make my short list.       [...MORE]

Goodbye Goddess: Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

Elizabeth Taylor has always been one of my favorite actresses. She was an incredible natural beauty. Arguably the most beautiful actress Hollywood ever produced but she was also a brilliant performer when she wanted to be. She dominated almost every film she ever appeared in even when that film wasn’t particularly worthy of her larger than life presence. Taylor was a complex woman with a rich inner life who enjoyed living and one look into her deep violet eyes told you this. Inside of Taylor there seemed to be a volcanic mountain of pent-up emotion just waiting to explode. Her appetite for life was voracious but her heart was huge, open and warm. These are rare and wonderful qualities that you seldom find in today’s Hollywood stars.

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Some Favorite DVD Releases of 2010

Every year I try to compile a list of my favorite new DVD releases. These lists tend to focus on films from the ’60s and ’70s since they’re my favorite film eras. This year I decided to expand my view a little and disregard limitations so I could share a varied list of all my favorite DVD releases with Movie Morlock readers. This list is far from complete since I haven’t had the opportunity to see every new DVD that was released but I hope it will encourage a few people to seek out these films. Many of the movies on my list were released on DVD for the first time last year so they’ve been hard to see unless you own them on video or caught them playing on television. So without further ado, here’s some of my favorite DVD releases from 2010 listed alphabetically for easy reference.

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The Ice-Cold Angel Turns 75

It’s hard to believe that Alain Delon has aged at all but on November 8th my favorite French actor will be celebrating his 75th birthday. His impossible beauty, quiet intensity and powerful magnetism have been immortalized on screen so he remains ageless in my mind. Like a modern day Dorian Gray, Alain Delon retains his youth in countless films shown at revival screenings, on television and available on DVD where we’ve been given the opportunity to see him as the ambitious boxer in Rocco and His Brothers (1960), the scheming social climber in Purple Noon (1960), the seductive banker in L’Eclisse (1962), the dashing Tancredi in The Leopard (1963), the petty criminal in Joy House (1964), the cold-blooded killer in Le samouraï (1967), the jealous lover in The Swimming Pool (1969) and as the paranoid art dealer in Mr. Klein (1976), among many other memorable roles.

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Dancing The Mephisto Waltz

The legend of Faust is one of the oldest occult tales in the Western world. This German fable has been the basis of countless plays, poems, novels, musical compositions, works of art and films. Although the Faust legend has been reinterpreted many times in various ways; most renderings describe Faust as an aging unsatisfied scholar who is bored with conventional wisdom and decides to take up magic. He uses his arcane abilities to conjure up a servant of the devil (Mephistopheles or Mephisto) and makes a bargain with him. Faust offers his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for esoteric knowledge but his “deal with the devil” doesn’t serve him well. In the end Faust is faced with regrets and the prospect of internal damnation.

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The Age of Senseless Violence: The Damned (1963)

Every Friday night this month, TCM is showing a slate of Hammer Horror films, so we at Movie Morlocks have been saluting the venerable production company’s work. Hammer Films, launched in 1934, has an imposingly large filmography, and has just re-started after a 30 year hibernation.  Let Me In (the remake of Let the Right One In (2008)) is its first production to hit U.S. theaters since their 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes, starring Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould. They claim to have 25 projects in preparation, and they just inked a deal to publish horror novels with Arrow (an imprint of Random House). I’m going to dip into their past, though, and focus on the 1963 Joseph Losey film The Damned (re-titled These Are the Damned in the U.S. It airs October 22nd at 11:15PM. It is also available on DVD).

It’s a strange beast, a youth-in-revolt drama that morphs into a sci-fi dystopia fueled by nuclear panic. Based on a story by H.L. Lawrence (The Children of Light), and adapted for the screen by Evan Jones, it stars Macdonald Carey as Simon Welles, a rather dissolute American traveling to the graying resort town of Weymouth, in England (a stand-in for the blacklisted American exile, Joseph Losey). There he meets Joan (Shirley Ann Field), who lures him into a mugging by her brother King’s leather-clad Teddy Boy gang. King (played with neurotic smarminess by Oliver Reed) is a sexually-repressed type, tyrannically controlling his sister’s love-life and channeling his own lust into bits of random violence. Joan runs off with Simon, and they hide out in the cliffs, where they discover a secret government experiment to forge children who could survive a nuclear holocaust. King chases them into the same nightmare.

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The Man Who Fell Off The Statue of Liberty: An Interview with Norman Lloyd

In conjunction with TCM’s first ever film festival in Los Angeles, I wanted to interview some of the people who will be presenting movies at the event. At the top of my list was actor/producer/director Norman Lloyd who will be introducing Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR at Mann’s Chinese Theatre on April 25th. The subject of a recent documentary, WHO IS NORMAN LLOYD?,  the 94-year-old raconteur has known and worked with some of the biggest names in the world of theatre, radio, film and television including Orson Welles, John Houseman, Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin, Bernard Herrmann, Joseph Losey, Alfred Hitchcock and John Garfield to name just a few.  The following interview was recorded on March 2nd, 2010 . [...MORE]

The Prowler and the Unreality of the American Dream

The Prowler was made by disillusioned men. Director Joseph Losey, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and visual consultant John Hubley were all eventually blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Trumbo was already tarred, so his writing credit was given solely to Hugo Butler – while Losey and Hubley were pushed out of Hollywood soon afterward (Losey made one more film, The Big Night, before moving to Europe, while Hubley turned to uncredited work in commercials). Every major American institution is treated with a disdainful eye in The Prowler, a despairing document reflecting the state of the political Left in 1951, making it one of the bleakest film noirs ever made. James Naremore quotes Losey in describing the Hollywood liberal that year:

The Left in Hollywood was utterly demoralized by Truman, the atomic bomb, and the HUAC investigations, and it was beginning to recognize “the complete unreality of the American dream”. [...MORE]

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