Archive for Bryan Forbes

Half Fare

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by dcairns

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN screened at Filmhouse as a friend’s birthday treat — thanks to David Watson for laying it on.

The film is a very familiar TV treat in the UK, but as far as I could remember I’d never actually seen the whole thing. I knew who was in it, knew there was a landslide with flannel petticoats, and a father coming back at a railway station. As it unfolded I had no idea what was going to happen yet. I’d somehow avoided seeing it, despite being a huge fan of Edith Nesbit, author, and Jenny Agutter, star.

The film is the real triumph of Bryan Forbes’ spell running EMI — a rare case of a filmmaker being in charge of a film production outlet. And I could see him being sympathetic to Lionel Jeffries, a fellow actor, coming to him with his dream project.

What with the low budget and Jeffries’ inexperience as screenwriter and director, the film often has an endearingly amateur quality. Night scenes are overlit, crew shadows glimpsed, and any time an extra is heard muttering, it’s with the distinctive timbre of the film’s director (a nice Wellesian flaw to have). Jeffries’ visual approach varies between nice ideas he sometimes pulls off, and simply struggling to get an acceptable shot in a cramped location (I’ve been there, Lionel). I think his editor is letting him down quite a bit, so when he makes a mistake it isn’t tackled, and when he gets something good going, not enough is made of it.

But the film thrives on its charm. Most of Nesbit’s children’s books have a fairly episodic, stop-start pace, and this is no exception, but the mystery/drama of the father’s absence gives it a nice suspense motor to keep it going, and the “kids” are great. Master Gary Warren, a small-statured 16, is very natural as Peter. Miss Sally Thomsett, 20, is toothsome and surprisingly convincing as the much younger Phyllis, “who means well,” though she does bounce around rather a lot when she runs. And Miss Jenny Agutter, that axiom of cinema, in a rare non-nude role brings just the right dreaminess to Bobbie, who seems imbued with a kind of telepathy, the only real magic in a story which keeps hinting at fairy tales bleeding through into reality.

The men, led by the divine Cribbins, are all cast from the Funny Uncle school of Performing Arts, of which Lionel Jeffries was himself honorary chairman. I guess with this and, ahem, FRENZY, Cribbins’ film career was on the up, just as the British film industry disintegrated.

Of Jeffries’ later works, THE WATER BABIES and WOMBLING FREE are disappointments, I fear. THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN is rather nice, and I’ve yet to see the intriguing BAXTER!

One reason THE RAILWAY CHILDREN works as well as it does may be that Jeffries lacked the confidence to mess about too much with the book, so it survives intact with all its episodic looseness and queer touches of mysticism, which might have been smoothed out to its detriment by a more ambitious filmmaker soaked in the professional ways of doing things. And also, I feel the film’s Edwardian sentimentality and melancholy is completely genuine, and part of its maker’s personality. I saw Jeffries interviewed on telly once, and he pointed at a very nice self-portrait he’d painted, and said that his tiny grandchild had looked at it and said, “That’s grandpa. He’s a broken man.” And Jeffries, choking up a touch, in his gruff, bluff Edwardian way, said that this was an example of the extraordinary acuity of children. And I remember thinking, wow.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bokononism and the phallic power of Paul Henreid

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2013 by dcairns

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A lovely thought from the start of RED GARTERS, begun by Mitchell Leisen, who was fired and replaced by George Marshall, who brings a heaviness to the proceedings that’s quite counter-productive. Stylised sets require the right blend of stylisation and reality from the performances, and as striking as the film looks, it doesn’t quite get there.

But I was reminded of it when we watched THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, prepared by John Huston but executed by Bryan Forbes. Ironically, a few years later Forbes in turn would be removed from the ocean-bound suspense drama JUGGERNAUT and replaced by Richard Lester, who made a wee classic of it. CHAILLOT begins with a title echoing RED GARTERS’ invocation of the Bokononist comforting lie ~

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MADWOMAN stars Katherine Hepburn who doesn’t seem mad at all — she lacks the air of vulnerability to embody the script’s sentimental idea of a “holy innocent” type of insanity. And the film’s politics is slightly sappy and hippyish too. Huston claimed he quite because producer Ely Landau wanted the film to say the “the young people are going to hell” whereas Jean Giraudoux’s source play was an attack on the faceless moneymen who rule the world. Huston, as so often is the case, was clearly lying his ass off, because after his departure Landau produced a film about the evil moneymen — directed by Forbes who was, I believe, a fairly conservative sort of chap.

But what a cast — if Hepburn is a bit miscast, Danny Kaye is terrific (straight acting stops him being cutesy) and the bad guys, embodied by Yul Brynner (never better; relishing the chance to play a really extreme character), Charles Boyer, Paul Henried, and even John Gavin, are hugely entertaining. Add in Sybill Thorndyke, Giullietta Masina and Margaret Leighton, plus Donald Pleasence, and you have a guarantee of at least some kind of interest, even if the filmmaking never quite arrives at the kind of consistency Forbes was capable of (Why two cinematographers?). I didn’t see this as the disaster some have called it, just as an intriguing oddity.

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Good bit with Henried as the  military-industrial complex, displaying his many erect missiles.

And then I saw SIREN OF BAGDAD, a truly appalling Sam Katzman Arabian Nights travesty directed by a young and desperate Richard Quine, and once again Henried’s virility is the source of humour ~

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Inadequate dirk? Try a little magic, and ~

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Schwing!

Contrasted with Hans Conried’s lack of rigidity in the shaft ~

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It’s all downhill from here, apart from some odd comedy when Conried is transformed into a glamorous blonde (uncredited, but I think it’s Vivian Mason) who is hilarious even without Conried’s goofy lilt dubbed on. The titular Siren is Patricia Medina, whom we like, but it’d take a greater magician than either Henried or Quine to save this mess.

RIP Bryan Forbes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 8, 2013 by dcairns

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Forbes endeared himself to me by being the only filmmaker in the last-but-one Sight & Sound poll to choose one of his own movies, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, as one of his top ten. It would have been nice if the film had appeared on anybody else’s list — a kind of validation. But it IS a really lovely film, one of several of his movies worthy of consideration as classics — along with THE WHISPERERS, KING RAT and SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, subject of the second ever Shadowplay article.