The Offence (1972, directed by Sidney Lumet)


After a suspected child molester named Baxter (Ian Bannen) dies while being interrogated in police custody, Detective Superintendent Cartwright (Trevor Howard) head up the internal affairs investigation.  Baxter was beaten to death by Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery), a 20-year veteran of the force who has seen the worst that humanity has to offer.  Did Johnson allow his anger over Baxter’s crimes to get to him or did something else happen during the interrogation?

When Sean Connery agreed to play James Bond for a final time in Diamonds are Forever, he did it under the condition that United Artists agree to back two of Connery’s non-Bond film projects.  UA agreed, though they did insist that neither film cost more than $2,000,000.  One of those projects was an adaptation of Macbeth, which was canceled in the wake of Roman Polansi’s version of the Scottish play.  The other project was The Offense.

Based on a play by John Hopkins, The Offence is the type of movie that probably would have never been made if not for the interest of a big star, like Connery.  The story is downbeat and grim and audiences are essentially asked to spend nearly two hours in the presence of two very unlikable men.  Baxter is an accused child molester while Johnson is a bully who has been driven so mad by the things that he’s seen that he’s not only violent on the job but also on at home.  Director Sidney Lumet directs with a cold and detached style, refusing to provide any sort of relief from the intensity of the film’s interrogations.  The film is set up as an acting showcase for Connery and Bannen, giving both of them a chance to show what they could do with two unpredictable characters.

Unfortunately, not many people got a chance to see their performances.  Even though Connery kept the budget under a million dollars and despite both the film and his performance being critically acclaimed, United Artists barely released The Offence and it took 9 years for the film to make back it’s meager budget.  It didn’t even get released in France until 2007.  Connery, however, often cited The Offence as being one of his best films and said that his performance in the film was his personal favorite.

The movies is too stagey and talky to be entirely successful but Connery was right about his performance.  It’s one of his best and it retains its power to disturb to this day.  Connery often chafed at being typecast as James Bond.  With The Offence, Connery plays a character who is nothing like Bond.  Everything about Johnson is brutal and seedy.  While it’s impossible not to initially sympathize with his anger towards the state of the world, Connery reveals that Johnson’s self-righteous anger is actually a shield for his own dark thoughts and desires.  He’s a bully, an angry man who grows more and more insecure as the film progresses and Baxter continues to see through him.  Connery makes Johnson sympathetic, frightening, pathetic, and dangerous all at the same time.  The Offence is a film that proves that Sean Connery was not only a good Bond but also a great actor.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Hope and Glory (dir by John Boorman)


The world is at war and a child is having the adventure of a lifetime.

That’s the idea behind the 1987 best picture nominee, Hope and Glory.  Taking place at the start of World War II, Hope and Glory shows us the Blitz through the eyes of ten year-old Billy Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards).  The world around Billy is on that is full of destruction, death, and often surreal imagery.  It’s a world where school children wear gas masks and the nights are full of explosions and shaking walls.  In the morning, everyone steps outside to see whose house has been destroyed.

Billy’s father, Clive (David Hayman), joins the army, leaving his wife Grace (Sarah Miles) to look after the Billy, Susie (Gerladine Muir), and their rebellious older sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis).  While Dawn falls in love with a Canadian soldier (Jean-Marc Barr) and Grace is tempted to have an affair with her husband’s best friend, Mac (Derrick O’Connor), Billy spends his days exploring the ruins of London and collecting scrap metal.  He and his friends loot bombed-out houses for all that they can find.  When they hear that Pauline’s (Sara Langton) mother was killed in the bombing, they blithely ask her if it’s true.  And while Billy eventually comes to better appreciate the reality of what’s happening around him, the rest of his friends remain cheerfully unconcerned.  “Thank you, Adolf!” one yells to the sky after learning that their school has been bombed.

Hope and Glory is a comedy but it has a very serious core.  Even while we’re watching Billy having his adventures, we’re very aware of what’s happening in the background.  For that matter, so is Billy, even if he doesn’t always immediately understand what he’s seeing or hearing.  Billy may be confused as to why Grace and Dawn have such a strained relationship but, for the observant viewer, the clues are there in every tense line of dialogue, awkward silence, and sidelong glance.  One of the film’s best scenes features Billy pretending to be asleep while listening to Grace and Mac talking about their past together.  As they speak, it becomes obvious that Grace may have married Clive but she’s always loved Mac.  Marrying Clive allowed her to have a family and a home, both of which now seem as if they could all just instantly disappear depending on where the bombs randomly land.  It’s a sweet but rather sad scene, one that’s perfectly played by both Sarah Miles and Derrick O’Connor.

I cried a lot while watching Hope and Glory.  I cried when Clive told his family that he was leaving.  I cried when Billy was forced to confront the reality of war.  I even teared up when Billy, while cheerfully exploring the ruins of a house, caught sight of the house’s former inhabitant watching him with a shell-shocked expression on her face.  But it’s also a very funny film.  About halfway through, Billy’s grandfather (Ian Bannen) shows up and he’s a wonderfully cantankerous and proudly contrary character.  It was also hard not to like little Roger (Nicky Taylor), the pint-sized leader of the gang who swaggers like a mini-James Cagney and delivers his lines with a rat-a-tat combination of innocence and jerkiness.

Not surprisingly, Hope and Glory was autobiographical.  Director John Boorman based this film on his childhood and Hope and Glory is sweetly touching in the way that only a story that comes from the heart can be.  This deeply moving and very funny film was nominated for best picture but it lost to The Last Emperor.

Moldy Horror: FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (Warner Bros/Amicus 1973)


cracked rear viewer

I’ve discussed the Max Roseberg/Milton Subotsky Amicus horror anthologies before on this blog. All are good, if uneven, little entries in the genre, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is no exception. This was the last of the Amicus tales of terror, a quartet of creepiness based on the work of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Mr. Cheywynd-Hayes’s work, so I couldn’t tell you if the movie’s faithful to it or not. I can tell you FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is about 50/50 in the chills department.

An all-star British cast gives it a game try, though. The segments are linked by horror icon Peter Cushing , looking rather gaunter than usual as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd., an antique shop which serves to set the stories in motion. Unfortunately, the part is a waste of Cushing’s talent; I could see him in any of…

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A Movie A Day #340: Eye of the Needle (1981, directed by Richard Marquand)


The time is World War II, shortly before D-Day.  Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan) lives on an isolated island with her crippled husband, David (Christopher Cazenove), their young son, and a sheep herder named Tom (Alex McCrindle).  Embittered by the accident that left him in a wheelchair, David is abusively violent and emotionally shut off.  One night, during a sudden storm, a man who says his name is Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) turns up on the island.  Henry claims that the storm caught him by surprise and left him stranded.  David doesn’t trust him and it turns out that, for once, David is right.  Faber is actually a semi-legendary German spy, code-named The Needle because his preferred instrument of murder is a stiletto.  Faber has discovered the plans for the Allied Invasion of Normandy.  He’s only on the island because he is waiting for a German u-boat to arrive and take him back to Berlin.  Complicating matters is that a romance has developed between Faber and Lucy.

Based on a novel by Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle is an old-fashioned spy thriller, distinguished by Kate Nelligan’s sensual turn as Lucy and Donald Sutherland giving what might be his career best performance in the role of Henry Faber.  Until he meets Lucy, Faber is a remorseless sociopath who is willing to kill anyone who discovers the truth about his identity.  For the majority of the film, it is left ambiguous whether Faber loves Lucy or if he’s just using her and Sutherland plays the role as if Faber himself is not really sure.  The final confrontation between Faber and Lucy is both suspenseful and exciting and will convince you to never stick your hand through a window unless you’re sure about what’s on the other side.  Eye of the Needle is a World War II thriller that deserves to be better known.

Following the success of this film, Richard Marquand was hired to direct Return of the Jedi.a film that is light years away from the gloomy world portrayed in Eye of the Needle.  He later directed another well-regarded thriller, Jagged Edge, before passing away from a stroke in 1987 at the age of 49.

Film Review: The Driver’s Seat (dir by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi)


The only reason that I watched the 1974 film, The Driver’s Seat, was because I had heard that Andy Warhol was in it and that he actually played a character other than Andy Warhol.

And that, it turns out, is true.  Andy Warhol does appear in The Driver’s Seat.  He plays a character known as “The English Lord” and he even attempts to speak with a posh British accent.  At the same time, though, it’s hard not to feel that Andy Warhol was still essentially playing himself.  Though not lacking in screen presence, Andy played the role with eccentric detachment.  It’s stunt casting, which Andy himself probably would have appreciated but, in the larger context of the film, his presence never quite makes sense.  Then again, the same can be said about just about every actor in The Driver’s Seat.  It’s not a film that’s overly concerned with making sense.

Andy is only in two scenes and they’re both rather short ones.  In his first scene, he approaches Lise (played by Elizabeth Taylor) in an airport and hands her a paperback book that she dropped earlier.  (The book is called The Walter Syndrome.)  As he and his entourage walk away from her, Lise says, “Why is everyone so afraid of me?”

Later on in the movie, Lise runs into the English Lord for a second time.  She approaches him and tries to talk to him but, just as before, he doesn’t have much to say to her.  He’s deep in conversation with some sort of government minister.  At one point, he says, “The King’s an idiot.”

And that’s pretty much the extent of Andy Warhol’s performance.

As for the rest of The Driver’s Seat, it’s one of the many oddly surreal films that Elizabeth Taylor made in the 1970s.  Taylor plays Lise, a middle-aged and overweight spinster who goes on an apparently spontaneous trip to Rome.  When she’s not trying to flirt with almost every man that she sees, she is obsessing on death.  (When she spots a police officer, he asks him if he has a gun and points out that, if he did, he could shoot her right that minute.)

Everyone seems to be scared of Lise, or I should say everyone but Bill (Ian Bannen).  Bill is, without a doubt, one of the most annoying characters of all time.  When Lise first sees him and his orange tan, she says, “You look like Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother.  Do you want to eat me?”

Bill laughs and happily replies, “I’d like to, I’d like to. Unfortunately, I’m on a macrobiotic diet and I can’t eat meat.”

Bill’s not joking either.  He is obsessed with his macrobiotic diet and won’t shut up about it.  He also tells Lise that, as a result of his diet, “I have to have an orgasm a day.”

When I diet, I diet,” Lise replies, “And when I orgasm, I orgasm!”  Lise also assures him, “I’m not interested in sex, I’m interested in other things!”

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, random people are getting blown up by terrorists and police officers are chasing young men down in airports.  The film is full of flash forwards in which the various characters who have met Lise are roughly interrogated by some sort of shadowy security agency.  Interpol, we’re told, is looking for Lise.  Everyone is looking for Lise!

Why?  Don’t expect an answer.  Why doesn’t matter in this film!  The Driver’s Seat is one of the most pretentious movies that I’ve ever watched.  Fortunately, I have a weakness for pretentious movies from the 1970s.  I’ve seen a lot of incoherent movies but I’ve rarely seen one that embraces and celebrates incoherence with quite the enthusiasm of The Driver’s Seat and it’s hard not to respect the film’s determination to be obscure.  The movie may make no sense but at least it’s weird enough to be watchable.  Elizabeth Taylor actually gives a pretty good performance as Lise, even if you never forget that you’re actually watching Elizabeth Taylor in one of her weird 1970s films.  Taylor plays the role with a conviction that sells even the most overwritten and/or obscure piece of dialogue.  Add to that, in the 70s, Elizabeth Taylor was probably one of the few people who truly could relate to the situation of having everyone in the world searching for her.

The Driver’s Seat is a pretentious mess and that’s just fine.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gandhi (dir by Richard Attenborough)


Gandhi-poster

I just finished watching the 1982 best picture winner Gandhi on TCM.  This is going to be a tough movie to review.

Why?

Well, first off, there’s the subject matter.  Gandhi is an epic biopic of Mohandas Gandhi (played, very well, by Ben Kingsley).  It starts with Gandhi as a 23 year-old attorney in South Africa who, after getting tossed out of a first class train compartment because of the color of his skin, leads a non-violent protest for the rights of all Indians in South Africa.  He gets arrested several times and, at one point, is threatened by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his screen debut as a young racist.  However, eventually, Gandhi’s protest draws international attention and pressure.  South Africa finally changes the law to give Indians a few rights.

Gandhi then returns to his native India, where he leads a similar campaign of non-violence in support of the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire.  For every violent act on the part of the British, Gandhi responds with humility and nonviolence.  After World War II, India gains its independence and Gandhi becomes the leader of the nation.  When India threatens to collapse as a result of violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi fasts and announces that he will allow himself to starve to death unless the violence ends.  Gandhi brings peace to his country and is admired the world over.  And then, like almost all great leaders, he’s assassinated.

Gandhi tells the story of a great leader but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great movie.  In order to really examine Gandhi as a film, you have to be willing to accept that criticizing the movie is not the same as criticizing what (or who) the movie is about.

As I watched Gandhi, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  Reportedly, Gandhi was a passion project for director Richard Attenborough.  An admirer of Gandhi’s and a lifelong equality activist, Attenborough spent over 20 years trying to raise the money to bring Gandhi’s life to the big screen.  Once he finally did, it appears that Attenbrough didn’t want to leave out a single detail.  Gandhi runs three and a half hours and, because certain scenes drag, it feels ever longer.

My other thought, as I watched Gandhi, was that it had to be one of the least cinematic films that I’ve ever seen.  Bless Attenborough for the nobility of his intentions but there’s not a single interesting visual to be found in the entire film.  I imagine that, even in 1982, Gandhi felt like a very old-fashioned movie.  In the end, it feels more like something you would see on PBS than in a theater.

The film is full of familiar faces, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.  For instance, Gandhi’s British opponents are played by a virtual army of familiar character actors.  Every few minutes, someone like John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, John Mills, or Nigel Hawthorne will pop up and wonder why Gandhi always has to be so troublesome.  The British character actors all do a pretty good job and contribute to the film without allowing their familiar faces to become a distraction.

But then, a few American actors show up.  Martin Sheen plays a reporter who interview Gandhi.  Candice Bergen shows up as a famous photographer.  And, unlike their British equivalents, neither Sheen nor Bergen really seem to fit into the film.  Both of them end up overacting.  (Sheen, in particular, delivers every line as if he’s scared that we’re going to forget that we’re watching a movie about an important figure in history.)  They both become distractions.

I guess the best thing that you can say about Gandhi, as a film, is that it features Ben Kingsley in the leading role.  He gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Gandhi, making him human even when the film insists on portraying him as a saint.  He won an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi and he deserved one.

As for Gandhi‘s award for best picture … well, let’s consider the films that it beat: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, and Missing.  And then, consider some of the films from 1982 that weren’t even nominated: Blade Runner, Burden of Dreams, Class of 1984, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Favorite Year, Poltergeist, Tenebrae, Vice Squad, Fanny and Alexander…

When you look at the competition, it’s clear that the Academy’s main motive in honoring Gandhi the film was to honor Gandhi the man.  In the end, Gandhi is a good example of a film that, good intentions aside, did not deserve its Oscar.