Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday night is Flix night

Well, another Saturday night went by and there wasn’t much to stare at, TCM-wise, so I utilized Plan B and had a glance at Flix on Demand menu. The nice thing about Flix is that they stagger their schedule so as a rule you can find something on nearly every week…

A Taste of Honey (1961) – British filmmaker Tony Richardson was renowned in the 1960s for his “kitchen sink” dramas (Look Back in Anger, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) and this movie (the film debut of actress Rita Tushingham) not only stands tall with his previous work but remains one of his all-time best films. Rita’s a working class girl whose mum (music hall institution Dora Bryan) abandons her to marry a sharpie (Robert Stephens); she then becomes pregnant by a sailor (Paul Danquah) and allows her gay roommate (Murray Melvin) to take care of her when Sailor Sam takes a powder. Those people who are familiar with Richardson’s raucous comedies like Tom Jones (1963) and The Loved One (1965) will be genuinely surprised by Honey; it has its share of light moments but all-in-all it’s a very serious and heartbreaking film about a girl’s coming of age…and its ending is particularly painful but thankfully doesn’t take the easy way out. I was particularly entranced by Tushingham’s performance: I’ve seen her in other films (notably The Leather Boys and The Knack…and How to Get It) but she was truly remarkable in this (she and co-star Melvin took home acting awards from the Cannes Film Festival in 1962)—she’s still working but I can’t honestly tell you the last time I saw her in anything. I was also impressed with Bryan’s turn as her irresponsible mother; most of what I’ve watched Bryan in is episodes of the BBC sitcom warhorse Last of the Summer Wine. If you are unfortunate and subscribe to CharredHer Cable like me, try and catch this when it’s on (I just wish the print had been a bit better).

Farewell, My Lovely (1975) – Ambitious remake of Murder, My Sweet (1944) stars Robert Mitchum as shamus Philip Marlowe, who because of changing attitudes in movies is allowed to swear and be injected with drugs at a cathouse (and not the sanitarium featured in Sweet). The credits in this film go to Big Bad Bob (he makes a credible Marlowe, even though he’s a bit long in the tooth) and some first-rate performances from the supporting actors: John Ireland (as Marlowe’s nemesis on the force), Sylvia Miles, TDOY fave Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton (as Ireland’s sidekick), Jack O’Halloran (the Superman villain plays Moose Malloy—though he’s no Mike Mazurki) and Kate Murtagh as the Hope Emerson-like madam running the whorehouse. The major debit in Lovely is Charlotte Rampling (who made a lot of the Best Actress lists in that meme that went around a few weeks back, to my head-scratching puzzlement) who just doesn’t convince me of her bad girl status…in fact, she doesn’t convince me of anything. As far as adaptations go, the 1944 version with Dick Powell is still the one to beat—but you might get a kick out seeing pulp fiction giant Jim Thompson as Rampling’s cuckolded husband and a young Sylvester Stallone, who plays one of Murtagh’s goons. (And, of course, I spotted Joan Shawlee right off the bat as the frowsy old dame who dances with Mitchum/Marlowe and talks incessantly about her husband “Harry.”)

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