Archive for The Late Show: The Late Films Blogathon


Posted in FILM with tags on October 7, 2016 by dcairns


On December 1st Shadowplay will be NINE years old. And the Shadowplay resident blogathon, The Late Show, will begin again.

Other blogs and guest writers are invited to contribute pieces about the last or late films of directors, stars, etc. We slightly prefer positive reviews to negative ones, but can occasionally wallow in a mournful trashing of a failed autumnal work. But what excites us most is appreciations of neglected movies that were out of time when they first appeared but now have a nostalgic glow.

I don’t mind about people covering films that have been covered before because they always end up saying different things, illuminating different aspects. If you don’t have a blog, I will host you here, and if you do, just link to this page or to the Shadowplay main page and post a comment here telling me what you’ve done and where to find it.

Hoping my new friends at Classic Movies Hub will join in!

To the Max

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 11, 2015 by dcairns


Long-term Shadowplayers will have noticed that the Late Show Blogathon, like a senior citizen itself, tends to drone on long past its allotted time. We’re still at it — arch-limerwrecker Hilary Barta celebrates the final film of Max Ophuls with a mighty limerick which approaches the majesty of its subject.

Almost as good as James Mason’s “A shot that does not call for tracks/Is agony for poor dear Max/Who, separated from his dolly/Is sunk in deepest melancholy/Once, when they took away his crane/I thought he’d never smile again.”

Running on Empty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by dcairns


Both of John Frankenheimer’s last cinema features, RONIN (1998) and REINDEER GAMES (2000), are set at yuletide, though the latter, with its heaps of bloodstained Santas lying dead in the snow, is certainly the more festive. Most of the best Christmas films are the work of Jewish filmmakers anyway.

RONIN, which I saw at the cinema when it was new, for DeNiro’s sake, and which I just showed to Fiona, seems the better film, which is interesting — RG has a twisty-turny plot with a killer set-up and an escalating menace and a truly ludicrous volte-face at the end which makes perfect narrative sense, in its demented way, but simply can’t be believed for an instant. RONIN is just about a bunch of guys (and Natasha McElhone) trying to get their hands on a shiny box (well, it IS Christmas). There are double-crosses and there are action sequences and there is, essentially, nothing else.


David Mamet wrote pretty much all the dialogue and then they wouldn’t give him sole credit so he used a pseudonym. His terse, hardboiled stuff is quite effective here, sparser than usual because everybody is trying to make this movie be like a Jean-Pierre Melville heist flick — the title clearly references LE SAMOURAI. What ultimately elevates the tone into something approaching Melville’s oddly serious pastiche style, is the music of Elia Cmiral, which imposes a palpable melancholy over the quieter scenes.

Frankenheimer and DoP Robert Fraisse frame gorgeously. While the all-real car chases attract most of the attention, with the camera scudding just above the tarmac as we rocket through Paris and Nice (is that fapping sound a burst tire or Claude Lelouch furiously masturbating?), the scenes of plotting and confronting and staring down are so beautifully framed and cut, every frame seething with dynamic tension, with a chilly blue metallic tinge, that I could cheerfully watch a version of this movie without any of the searing mayhem.



I recently contributed an essay on Frankenheimer to Masters of Cinema’s essential Blu-ray edition of SECONDS. This was subject to oversight by Paramount’s lawyers, who are strangely fussy creatures — they objected to my harsher words about some of Frankenheimer’s lesser works. To my surprise and wicked pleasure, though, the overall gist of the piece escaped their notice — in comparing Frankenheimer to the protagonist of SECONDS, I suggested that he had cut him off from his authentic self and become a hollow shell, making empty films whose most compelling subject matter is their own emptiness. In this regard, RONIN is a brilliant summation.

The whole plot revolves around this shiny box, a pure MacGuffin whose contents are never revealed (doubtless they glow when the box is opened, but it never is). By the end, it even transpires that the box is itself irrelevant, a decoy for an assassin, not what the plot was revolving around at all. And the title, meaning masterless samurai, patiently explained by Michael Lonsdale (yay! Michael Lonsdale!), turns out not to be an honest description of the protagonist. An empty film about emptiness, with Frankenheimer even reprising his shots of boxes and corpses montage from THE TRAIN, which he would re-reprise in his very next film.


The jarring note is the end, where some idiot has decided the film SHOULD, after all, be about something, and has dubbed in a radio broadcast alleging that the plot had something to do with the Northern Ireland peace process. So all that carnage was in a good cause. This is completely unacceptable — I kind of respected the movie’s ruthlessness in staging shoot-outs and car chases on the streets in which innocents are casually mown down and blown up. I accepted that this was a dog-eat-dog, amoral world we were being shown. To now try to argue that all this collateral damage is somehow JUSTIFIED in a HIGHER CAUSE is the work of a moral imbecile. It feels like a studio afterthought. On this second viewing I’m able to disregard the nonsense, but it throws Fiona for a loop, as does Jean Reno’s sudden internal monologue, which ends the picture. “He never had a voiceover before! What happened?”

“Somebody panicked,” I suggest. To make a truly hollow movie takes guts, something Frankenheimer had.