Some scenes make you feel like your brain has been extracted, and carved into a crude trumpet, and some Jazz Angel is blowing the most beautiful celestial music through its neural passages. It is then that we speak of The Chills.
Roger Livesey goes to heaven.
Regular Shadowplayer Alex Livingstone nominates this classic sequence from Powell & Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (AMOLAD for short), which ably shows off Pressburger’s superb story construction (one thing Powell definitely needed help with), Roger Livesey’s authoritative-but-loveable performance, Jack Cardiff;s cinematography (with Christopher Challis shooting second unit on the bike crash) and oh, many many other things. Alex wrote:
i nominate the bit in a matter of life and death where roger livesey crashes his motorcycle and dies, only to turn up in heaven and save the day. i can’t watch it without my breathing getting disrupted – i always wind up gasping and a bit wet-eyed, as if i’ve stuck my head into a supermarket freezer and inhaled really hard
on a more puerile note, when marius goring meets roger livesey for the first time he makes a little noise of agreement like someone honking a clown’s nose
Into each film some rain must fall, and I would regretfully note that Bob Arden’s scene in the ambulance with Kim Hunter is maybe one of only two ropey performances in P&P’s oeuvre — but hey, he’s in good company, the other is Laurence Olivier in FORTY-NINTH PARALLEL as a French-Canadian trapper with what sounds like a Pakistani accent. It’s a cameo that makes P&P fan David Mamet thank God that Olivier was prevented from starring in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (because Winston Churchill didn’t approve of the script).
Arden was later thrilled to be cast in MR ARKADIN by no less than Orson Welles (according to my friend Lawrie Knight, a drinking buddy of Arden’s), then less than thrilled when the film took years to open in the UK, and even less than less than thrilled when his own performance in it was singled out for unflattering comment. But Arden is arguably effective in that role: for whatever reason, Welles seemes to have aimed to make Arden’s character as unappealing as possible, and he exploits all Arden’s worst qualities, both physical and performaive, to do it.
Arden never became a star, but he earned a regular living playing Americans in British films for the rest of his days.
Roger Livesey is terrific in THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, but really he owes Powell his place in cinema. Nobody else would cast him at first — extraordinarily, they didn’t like his voice.
Lawrie didn’t really have warm memories of Livesey. When they met, Lawrie was a junior assistant on AMOLAD and Livesey asked him what he’d done in the war. When Lawrie said he was in the air force, Livesey ‘sort of made a face, and said “That explains it.”‘
Lawrie never knew what was behind this hostility, but I just found out. Good old Wikipedia:
At the outbreak of World War II, Livesey and Jeans were among the first volunteers to entertain the troops before he volunteered for flying duties in the R.A.F. He was turned down as too old, so he went to work in an aircraft factory at Desford aerodrome near Leicester to “do his bit for the war effort”.
The rejection must have rankled! Poor Roger. But that failure to attain active service is what made him available to star in COLONEL BLIMP, and thence to IKWIG and AMOLAD. And thence to immortality.
More suggestions for pulse-pounding, spine-tingling moments of cinematic greatness will be cheerfully received.