Archive for Sean Connery

Great Brain Robbery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2021 by dcairns

RIP Jean-Paul Belmondo.

We had just watched Michael Crichton’s best film, THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, which I’d been surprised to find on DVD in a charity shop (movies from 1978 or earlier are rare, except the very obvious ones), and then Belmondo’s passing prompted me to dig out THE BRAIN/LE CERVEAU (1969), a big-budget splashy caper comedy by Gerard Oury (who had just scored a massive hit in his homeland with LE GRAND VADROUILLE). And since the Brain, international master-criminal extraordinaire, is played by David Niven, it tied in with our weekend viewing of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

So, Crichton first. his Victorian heist movie was called simply THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in America, heedless of Edwin S. Porter, but had a FIRST interpolated in the UK to avoid confusion with the 1963 robbery of the Glasgow to London Royal Mail train, which was still a legendary job here. And, funnily enough, that real-life robbery is credited to the Brain in Oury’s film, even though several of the actual thieves had been nabbed by ’69.

Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Leslie-Anne Down are Crichton’s conspirators, briefly aided by Wayne Sleep, master of parkour (in reality a dancer who enjoyed a burst of fame just after this movie). The target is gold bullion used to pay the British troops in the Crimea. the The gimmick is that nobody at this this time had robbed a moving train.

With Geoffrey Unsworth shooting it, the film looks dandy, with Irish locations (Dublin mainly) augmented by skillful matte paintings and the whole thing is elevated hugely by Jerry Goldsmith’s jaunty score — the man understood the romance of steam trains and put that romance into musical form very purely. And the climactic sequence, with Connery doing a lot of his own stunts on top of a locomotive, is everything it needs to be.

It’s interesting to reflect that Crichton’s odd career — medical doctor, novelist, film director, then back to novels (which regularly became films by other people) — culminated in an even odder spree as climate change denier, in which Crichton tried to parlay his medical experience into some kind of expertise in a field he knew nothing about. (The only thing that could have made Crichton’s life odder is if Nic Roeg had followed up his first impulse to cast the very tall 6″ 9 non-actor as Thomas Jerome Newton in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. Crichton also created the TV show E.R., an early example of prestige television which it seems nobody now talks about.) This is vaguely relevant here solely because T(F)GTR is a very mercenary film, and I recall Crichton being asked by an interviewer about the consequences for our children if he was wrong, and global termperatures WERE being forced up. He replied, strangely, by asking in turn what if he were right, and we lost a lot of money by trying to tackle climate change? Which struck my as a really strange thing to put in the balance, as if greater wealth were as important as survival.

“All you care about is money,” says Leslie-Anne Down.

“All anyone cares about is money,” says Connery.

There’s a thesis to be written about the popularity of the heist movie in the swinging sixties — the genre slowly gathered steam from THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, THE KILLING and RIFIFI, but became almost ubiquitous in the flower power era, even though the unrestrained capitalist impulse would seem incompatible at first glance with free love and all that. Evidently it was VERY compatible. I guess you have the demise of the Hays Code, so “crime must not pay” goes out the window; you have a generation questioning authority; and law and order thrown into disrepute by a second prohibition, that of recreational drugs. And the hippies were not indifferent to money, just hostile to the rat race. And so now we have Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and the muppets.

Anyway, Oury’s THE BRAIN posits two rival gangs after the same target, the secret wealth of NATO. France had temporarily dropped out of NATO, it seems, so Belmondo, energetic and optimistic as ever, sees nothing wrong in pilfering from the remaining nations, and his dour compatriot Bourvil is persuaded to join him.

(If you want a triple-bill, the third entry should be Melville’s THE RED CIRCLE, with Bourvil as a cat-loving detective and yet another train heist, this time staged with Thunderbirds-style miniatures.)

Meanwhile Niven’s Brain is secretly the officer in charge of security and is planning to filch the sacks of cash himself. This being the sixties, he lives in an opulent mod apartment and keeps a pet leopard. He briefs his team with an animatic showing how the robbery will work. Fiona: “I love that he’s gone to the trouble of making an animated film!” Me: “It’s rotoscoped, so he’s gone to the trouble of shooting it all in live action and then animating on top of it!”

Complications, as they say, ensue: Sicilian money-launderer Eli Wallach wants a bigger cut, and his virginal young sister Silvia Monti wants Niven. This film is silly. There’s a lot of very broad slapstick. The train robbery is mostly covered via process shots, so Belmondo doesn’t perform many of the incredible Keatonesque/Jackie Chan stunts you can see in THE MAN FROM RIO, LES TRIBULATIONS D’UN CHINOIS EN CHINE, FEAR OVER THE CITY, LE CASSE, but it’s all very lavish and undemanding. The opening title sequence drops every sixties special effect on the cutting room floor and tramples them into a fine paste.

THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY stars James Bond; Klute; Dr. Eileen Flax; Master Shallow; Lord Hibbott – Wedding Two; Night Porter; Miss Moneypenny; Esther Waters; Drogue; Lady Felicity: The Palace; Professor Bernard Quatermass; and Mr. Sugden.

THE BRAIN stars Louis-Dominique Bourguignon alias Cartouche; Sir James Bond; Un drogué; Tuco Juan Maria Ramirez, known as The Rat; Miss Milbanke; Lord Henry Wotton; and Le Sergent Mac Fish.

Butter Armageddon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2020 by dcairns

I was moved to write a complaint to Film4 the other day. yes, I’m becoming one of those people. My previous complaint was to the BBC, and was at least about something serious, a piece by their science editor that began by questioning the seriousness of the Coronavirus threat (this was before 50,000 Brits had died, so I feel history has borne me out here) and ended by suggesting we’d soon have to make some tough decisions balancing the health of the populace with the health of the economy — calculating, as Harry Lime would put it, how many of those little dots we could afford to spare.

Well, the BBC has been guilty of crimes against humanity, perhaps, but The Telegraph has our mass graves already dug.

So maybe it’s a relief to get on to something trivial. My complaint to Film4 mainly spoke about the way the film was screened in the wrong aspect ratio, so that everyone was very long and thin — OK, Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson are long and thin normally, but that doesn’t explain why the moon was an oblong. Everybody knows movie moons are always full, unless they’re crescent.

This might well have been my cable provider’s fault, but have you ever tried explaining an aspect ratio problem to somebody in a call centre? If you’re very lucky they’ll understand you well enough to suggest adjusting the settings on your TV.

But the transmission in question had another problem, one that was certainly not Virgin Media’s fault. Somebody had stuck English subtitles on the first exchanges, in German, between Veidt and Hobson.

This might seem like a natural thing to do. There are several lines, and it starts to get a bit frustrating that we (the presumed non-German-speaking viewers) can’t understand the dialogue. But this is absolutely deliberate, part of the Powell-Pressburger plan. As the scene progresses, our incomprehension increases the tension, which is finally broken by a joke, and even Hobson looks relieved.

Crass as the subtitler’s unwelcome intervention was, it made me realise something about the scene. At the end of the exchange, Veidt suddenly gets a rapt look in his eye and advances upon Hobson in a Stroheimesque manner… then picks up the true object of his desire, a dish of butter, which he smells deeply, before declaring, “Butter!”

“You had me worried there for a moment,” smiles Hobson.

True, Powell hasn’t quite worked out a way of tricking the eyelines so we BELIEVE that Connie’s gaze is fixed on Val, but you can’t have everything.

The gag is part of a quaint idea that the Germans would be suffering more from food shortages than the island-bound Brits in 1917, which I’m not sure is accurate. But maybe. It’s quite late in the war.

Anyway, what I realised was that P&P were pulling the same stunt performed more showily by John McTiernan and screenwriters Larry Ferguson, Donald E. Stewart and David Shaber in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER: making a transition from a foreign language, then one which the characters would in reality be speaking (Hobson in fact spoke German fluently), to English, for the benefit of the audience, the switch being performed by use of a single word which is the same in each language. “Butter” is “butter” in German and English, and “Armageddon” is “Armageddon” in Russian and English.

McTiernan’s version works with subtitles. The Archers’ version is clearly better without.

Also, Veidt’s German is better than Sean Connery’s Russian.

THE SPY IN BLACK stars Cesare the Somnambulist; Edith D’Ascoyne; Anakin Skywalker; Conductor 71; Julia Trimble-Pomfret; Uncle Pumblechook; Halima; Sokurah the Magician; Finn – the Mute; Dr. Petrie; Joe Gargery; and Professor Auguste Balls.

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER stars James Bond; Donald Trump; Alan Shephard; Damien Thorn; Darth Vader; De Nomolos; Duncan Idaho; Joseph Andrews; Dr. Frank-N-Furter – A Scientist; Ron Carver; Moominpapa; Ed Rooney; and Dr. Beverly Crusher.

 

 

Vampire Nightclub

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2018 by dcairns

If Max Schreck is looking a bit unusual above, that’s because I photographed him off the screen at The Hidden Door Festival’s BLADE event. I shall attempt to explain.

Hidden Door put on surprising and unusual events in empty buildings around Edinburgh. A bit like squatters, only they invite an audience. Flashback a week —

I’d given up going to the Filmhouse Quiz (second Sunday of the month) because I found the new quizmaster a bit inept. I felt bad for him, but after all I don’t go out at the weekend looking to feel bad for someone. If I want to cringe, I can stay home and think about my adolescence.

But there’s a NEW new quizmaster and I’d heard she was great and I went along and she was — and my team won, which doesn’t always happen. My kind of film trivia doesn’t always turn up in a film trivia quiz.

AND there was a special question with a special prize — there was a line of dialogue which turned out to be from BLADE, and BLADE is a very special film for team member Kim — she met her future husband Eg through their shared love of BLADE. So of course she recognized the line, won the prize, and it was free tickets to the Hidden Door event…

On the night, Kim got in touch as there were still a couple of tickets going spare. The Leith Theatre, site of the event, is only five minutes from out house, but Fiona had just set off for a nap, so I popped along myself, curious about the venue and the “immersive cinema experience” promised.

Not quite curious enough to stay. The show started at 7.30 but the movie itself… when? NOSFERATU was on when I arrived.

The disco lighting created lots of odd effects unimagined by Murnau. The pumping music did not exactly sync with the movie — it wasn’t intended as accompaniment, really — but I’ve heard worse attempts at scoring. And they’d really put a lot of effort and imagination into creating a vampire nightclub, including people playing vampires who prowled up and down or danced on podiums by the screen. It was all fine. I hate night clubs, but I was happy to have a beer, walk about, watch NOSFERATU for a bit…

NOSFRATU ended… I prepared for BLADE… and NOSFERATU began again. Of course they weren’t going to sync the start of one film to the end of the other. NOSFERATU was just screen-filler. They would start BLADE whenever.

The thing is, I don’t actually like BLADE, so having enjoyed the venue and seen a bit of NOSFERATU under unique circumstances, I left. The thought of being in a night club, even a vampire one, for an indeterminate period, was intolerable to me. I enjoyed what I’d had — would strongly recommend Hidden Door (it’s still running) to those who enjoy nights out — but it wasn’t really for me. And the reward for staying in the club would have been BLADE…

I warmed to Stephen Norrington at the time his debut, DEATH MACHINE, came out, because he did an interview saying “We are the generation that hates LONDON KILLS ME.” He was foursquare against gritty British social realism, which was the only flavour on sale at the time apart from heritage Merchant-Ivory stuff. I was with him. We might also have been the generation that hates DEATH MACHINE, I’m not sure — I never saw it.

BLADE had an impressive opening sequence, but one that invalidate the rest of the film — once you’d seen Wesley Snipes effortlessly kill a hundred vampires, there didn’t seem much point sticking around. Then Norrington made the autobiographical tortured genius film THE LAST MINUTE, which I haven’t seen, then THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, oh dear. I recently learned that Sean Connery had been set to do a film with Milos Forman until his experience with Norrington made him retire instead. Another reason to dislike this loud mess.

Norrington hasn’t made a film since, which is pretty remarkable. Normally, you do a film of that size, and SOMEBODY will hire you again. There’s a story there, but a lot of disagreement about what it is…

From one party I heard that everybody on LOXG hated Norrington. He famously didn’t attend the premiere. Another friend bumped into Norrington and heard his side of it. He’d been treated abominably. My friend was totally convinced by his account. But it doesn’t take too much finagling to find a theory that would square both versions: possibly Norrington was being mistreated by the producers, and this made him hard to work with, and Connery loathes disorganisation, and Norrington wound up universally unpopular but it wasn’t originally his fault. I don’t know. But I do find it hard to forgive him for using up Sean Connery right before he would have made the Milos Forman film. We are the generation that hates THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.