A Matter of Life and Death

Whilst returning home to England after a mission over Germany during World War II, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) reports back to American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) and alerts her to the presence of his squad, who all bailed out of their severely damaged aircraft. With his own radio technician, Bob (Robert Coote), dead and no intact parac/hutes remaining, Carter knows he will not survive the return journey, but plans to eject anyway, preferring to jump rather than fry, but during his brie dialogue with June the pair develop an attraction. Suffice to say, Carter bails out and his plane crashes but, miraculously, he awakes on shore, fully alive. You see there has been an error in Heaven and, due to the heavy fog across the English Channel, Carter’s body could not be found. An agent of Heaven, Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), is sent to retrieve him, but alas he has met in person with June and the two have fallen hopelessly in love, and therefore Carter is far from willing to accept his allotted demise, and instead intends to fight his case to the end.
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Peeping Tom

After making this film, director Michael Powell, here working without regular co-director Emeric Pressburger, had to move to Australia, for no-one else would employ him. This is a somewhat extreme reaction, especially by today’s standards, as through the eyes of a 21st century film viewer there is nothing here to shock or frighten anyone, but back then the tale of a socially awkward young man filming women’s last moments as he kills them with a specially designed camera with a blade attached probably pushed boundaries beyond what the public was used to, though it was released the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Like his lead Mark, Powell focuses more on the reactions of the characters than on what they are experiencing, and the film is at times cold and passionless, yet Mark (Karlheinz Bohm) is a chilling, disturbing protagonist; an influence to fan Scorsese’s Travis Bickle, as well as Sex, Lies & Videotapes’ Graham, making this an adequate, if not necessarily exceptional, character thriller.
Choose film 7/10

A Canterbury Tale

If I’ve never heard of the film I’m watching, I usually assume it’s from the 1001 or 5-star lists, as though I’ve heard of a lot of films, these lists are peppered with some pretty obscure titles, so I was surprised to find this 1944 British film to be sitting at number 176 on Empire’s reader-voted top 500 and nowhere else.

Writing/directing/producing duo Powell & Pressburger, of the previously reviewed the Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, here tell the story of an earnest and open-minded American soldier alighting from his train a stop early in the small Kent town of Chillingham during World War 2. With the next train not scheduled that day, he hangs around and assists the locals in the search for a man terrorising the female residents by pouring glue in their hair.
There is some nice back-and-forth dialogue, and interesting ruminations on the famous Pilgrim’s Road, blacksmithing, church organs and UK/US comparisons, but also a lot of “Say, what’s that over there?” mundanity. The creative use of lighting is interesting, with a face and body all in darkness with only the eyes illuminated, but the ending is too twee and nicely tied up for my liking.
Choose life 6/10

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Character driven and with a meandering, unhurried pace, this is most definitely not the war epic I had always assumed it to be. Following Roger Livesey’s Clive Candy over a forty year period as he climbs the ranks of the British army, insulting the entire German movement during the Boer War, retiring twice, forming a firm bond with a German officer and three separate relationships, all portrayed by Deborah Kerr. Livesey is excellent, adeptly showing the difficulties Candy faces trying to impose his old school sportsmanship and honourable values on the more modern ideology of total warfare. Admittedly, I would have liked more battle scenes, but this is more than made up for with the absurd comedy of the technicalities and formality of a duel, and the inclusion of Dad’s Army’s Frazer, a young John Laurie.

Choose film 7/10

The Red Shoes

I’ve read before that this is supposedly Martin Scorsese’s favourite film. I can’t remember why, and I’m still not sure now, but if he likes it then fair enough. The Red Shoes tells the story of Julian Craster and Victoria Page. He is a music student, given a job at the ballet orchestra after his professor steals his work for a show, and she is a promising ballerina, given a shot at the big time when a professional dancer leaves to get married. Predictably, the two end up working on the same show, the Ballet of the Red Shoes, he as composer and she as the star.  I’ve never been overly keen on dance, and I’ve never attended a ballet recital, so I can’t say I was necessarily engrossed in the backstage goings on, as the Machiavellian show director forbids the leading couple from seeing one another, but there was an interesting 20-minute wordless dream/dance sequence involving fairytale backgrounds and characters, and I liked the implication of a train passing using puffs of smoke, lights, sounds and actors following the ‘train’ with their eyes, but overall found the film was largely dull.
Choose life 4/10