“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue…”

Lloyd Bridges in THIRD PARTY RISK.

A very middling thriller: two-fisted lyricist Lloyd is distracted from recording Spanish folk tunes by a plot involving compromising showgirl letters, industrial secrets, and Finlay Currie as the world’s least convincing Hungarian. The whole thing is goofily enjoyable like an episode of The Saint accidentally inflated to feature length. Ferdy Mayne and Roger Delgado add swarthiness and suavity.

Director Daniel Birt seems quite bored with it all, adding to my half-baked theory about British cinema — there were periods, notably the late forties and mid-sixties, when the quality produced by the best filmmakers was so high, it raised the overall standard. Moderately gifted directors couldn’t help but be inspired by the startling stuff around them, and raised their game accordingly. Birt’s films in 1948 (the climactic year of that boom), co-written by Dylan Thomas, are almost startlingly good. THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS (his first film, Nova Pilbeam’s last) and NO ROOM AT THE INN have Gothic panache and very modern flourishes, as well as controversial church-bashing and subversive morbidity, but just six years later he’s directing with one eye on oblivion. What happened to him, or rather, what happened to British filmmaking?

The question is raised over at The Daily Notebook in this week’s The Forgotten.

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33 Responses to ““Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue…””

  1. Jenny Eardley Says:

    I wonder if that’s a British trait in general: “If they’re not going to do it, why should I?” I know I’m a bit like that. And if I am, well then it must be all of us.

  2. Guess I’ll just go ahead and get this out there, because I know it’s just a matter of time before somebody will… Tony Curtis RIP

  3. Indeed, Guy. He was going to appear in Edinburgh in some kind of autobiographical show just a few months ago. It was postponed, and I feared the worst. Would’ve been great to see him. He was a great star, and for all his occasional unpleasantness, a very funny character.

    Jenny, you remind me of a line quoted by a BBC2 boss about how they’d more or less stopped showing foreign films: “Well, we’re no worse than the other bunch!” Which isn’t the most pro-active policy imaginable.

    With Birt, it could simply be that the projects on offer were hugely less ambitious, which was certainly true. A really hungry artist would seize on the cheesy thrillers and try to make something memorable out of them, though.

  4. Tony Curtis R.I.P.

    Say Goodnight Sidney.

  5. Jenny Eardley Says:

    The BBC has no excuse (I assume by ‘the other bunch’ he meant ITV) they’re meant to be the public service broadcasters!

    Fascinating article though David, I’ve had time to read it now. I’d love to see both Birt/Thomas films, we Welsh feel rather hard done by cinematically. I came across a book on Welsh cinema in my local museum and read the first few pages. All that was about “How Green was my valley” which was mostly made by Irish emigres filming in California. It’s an enormous book, must be all tenuous connections spun out.

  6. I think he meant Channel 4. Who are indeed just as bad.

    Any book on Scottish cinema (or any book not aiming to induce despair) would probably spend a lot of time on films that are only somewhat Scottish-related. We’ve been very keen to claim the American-born Alexander Mackendrick as one of us, since he was raised in Glasgow, which makes Whisky Galore! and The Maggie more authentically home grown. Mind you, Dirk Bogarde was raised in Glasgow too, but he hated the experience so intensely and vocally that no attempt has been made to repatriate him.

    So I sympathize with Wales. At least we got Trainspotting. You got Twin Town.

    The Birt/Thomas movies deserve revival, the copies currently floating about are dreadful, and No Room at the Inn has been substantially shortened. The BFI should get on this.

    I always enjoyed Tony Curtis in films and in interviews. He had a vulgar vigour and scattershot brain full of crazy non-sequiturs that was always entertaining.

  7. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Yes it looked like there were quite a lot of pictures of Twin Town in the second half of that book! *despairing face*

  8. It doesn’t sound like a good book then – shouldn’t it at least talk about House Of America, One Full Moon, Leaving Lenin (an endlessly rewatchable favourite of mine), Sleep Furiously or even the Oscar-baity Hedd Wyn.

    I’d venture to suggest that the Welsh films have been better than the Scottish and English ones, but then there’s not been that much competition (though swap out Trainspotting for Orphans and Scotland might have the edge!)

    It’s not all Twin Town and Dirty Sanchez you know, even if those films get the most ‘exposure’!

  9. I saw Karl Francis do a public pitch once. What an incredibly charismatic, energetic and funny man. But I don’t know that he ever made anything that reflected those qualities… which I think is again down to the prevailing cultural climate.

    The Irish seem to be different from the Scottish and Welsh, in that they go to see their own films.

  10. Something I came across a few weeks ago on YouTube. Tony’s in the audience, his reaction to the two of them is priceless.

  11. My apologies for making this post so schizophrenic.

  12. Christopher Says:

    Lloyd Bridges can be as entertaining as heck!…Been enjoying Sea Hunt re-runs late late night recently..

  13. Lloyd B was very good, always a welcome presence. His perforamce in Try and Get Me! is astonishing! And then, despite being somewhat on the opposite side of the blacklist from director Cy Endfield, he made another movie with him in the UK, The Limping Man. Which has the most ludicrous ending I’ve ever seen — must write about it sometime.

    Guy, never apologise! Schizoid is good — that’s the basis for this whole joint.

  14. Christopher Says:

    not the old man..but Son has some pretty big shoes to fill.Its coming and I’m looking forward to it.

  15. It’s like the Coens made a film for my mum. She likes the original, she likes westerns and she likes Jeff Bridges. And she liked No Country For Old Men.

    Jeff’s great.

  16. You’ll have to go see it with your mum.

    And I agree, Jeff is great, been a favorite of mine since I saw him in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW in the early Seventies.

  17. John Seal Says:

    Interesting theory, David, and well-supported by this piece of 1948 evidence: Uncle Silas, perhaps the greatest Gothic melodrama virtually no-one’s ever seen, directed by a man (Charles Frank) no-one’s heard of.

  18. Tony Williams Says:

    How things have changed since I left the UK!

    I now get my UK classics from a contact in exchange for Rhonda Fleming movies now (it used to be Randolph Scott). I have UNCLE SILAS on VHS and it is a great Gothic film. Also, I watched the never-released DILEMMA last week, So much ingenuity packed into 60 minutes that puts to shame most productions. THE IMPERSONATOR was also great showing the continuation of the “over-sexed/overpaid/and over here” attitude continuing into the 60s. John Crawford deserves special mention and so does Patricia Burke whose supporting roles were so extraordinary and varied.

  19. Tony Williams Says:

    How things have changed for the worse since I left the UK!

    I now get my old films from a collector in London in exchange for the latest Rhonda Fleming to go on DVD. Recently watched DILEMMA whose narrative ingenuity in 60 minutes would put most contemporary films to shame.

  20. Well, to be fair about Mackendrick, he may have been born in the US but he was born to Scottish parents. But we do tend to grab on to whomever we can and claim they are Scots. We have a horrid tendency to big ourselves up by jumping on the acheivments of those with a connection to here, like David Byrne.

  21. Tony, which year was Dilemma made in? IMDb offers so many possibilities for that title.

    I recently saw Charles Frank’s sole other movie, At the Drop of a Head, made in two languages in his native Belgium. It’s a lightweight comedy fantasy with a rather unappealing lead and a limited budget, but the direction is as full of invention as Uncle Silas. I’d love to know what the story was behind Frank’s lack of productivity.

  22. Jean Simmons is blazingly beautiful (and disturbingly erotic – given her very young age) in UNCLE SILAS. The film itself is a treasure trove of glorious Gothic camerawork – with one especially beautiful shot through a spider’s web! It makes you realise that Powell and Lean were not working in a vacuum, and that the late 40s really was a Golden Age for UK cinema.

  23. Jean Simmons invented blazingly beautiful and disturbingly neurotic in Great Expectations and Black Narcissus

  24. Yes, but her performance in UNCLE SILAS is above and beyond either of those. It’s almost an adolescent ‘dry run’ for ANGEL FACE!

  25. I guess what’s remarkable there is that she’s the heroine, and the role could’ve in theory been played by some bland ingenue. Instead we get Simmons, a real actress and the possessor of a powerful and subversive magnetism.

  26. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, I’ll have to look up the credits again but I think the book on British B Movies by Steve Chibnall and Brian McFarlane may give the correct date. IMdB is a complete nightmare these days.

    Jean is great in UNCLE SILAS.

    Decades ago, I saw several old British films on the Television Wales and the West ITV station where John Baxter worked as program controller. In addition to running his own films such as LOVE ON THE DOLE and THE COMMON TOUCH, he ran others such as WELCOME MR. WASHINGTON that is now lost and on the BBFI’s Most Wanted List.

  27. Damn! Is it conceivable that the TV company kept a tape of it?

    I like the idea of a filmmaker becoming a TV controller. If only the BBC were in the hands of Robert Fuest!

  28. Jenny Eardley Says:

    When have I ever seen a film on S4C? I know there are Welsh language films so you’d think that’d be the ideal place for an airing!

  29. They USED to show movies — I even have a couple of recordings taped off S4C back in the day. Channel 4 showed Casablanca recently, which surprised me as usually their film selection seems to be based on cheapness alone (which does result in the occasional good movie airing).

  30. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Yes, they’ve had a couple of weeks of films they used to only show at Christmas being shown in the afternoon. Bandwagon, Singin in the Rain, then a Paul Newman season, Imitation of Life – I think it’s the budget they had put aside for Big Brother and now need to fill some schedule slots with. Let’s hope it doesn’t run out too soon.

  31. Sadly my hopes of Channel 4 actually funnelling Big Brother cancellation funds into feature film acquisition seems to have been dashed with recent announcements of beefing up sporting and athletics fixtures, likely to raise the channel’s profile in the run up to the 2012 Olympics (while the BBC have the rights to the main games, they lost the Paralympics to C4).

    For UK viewers, and slightly in keeping with Mr Cairns’ recent 3D week, BBC2 on Sunday evening has a very rare screening of the Raoul Walsh film Gun Fury, starring Rock Hudson. Sadly I don’t think they’ll screen it in 3D though!

  32. I love it when one-eyed directors make 3D movies! I’ll be watching.

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