EIFF 2016 – Round-up

Pikadero (Ben Sharrock)

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Set in a small town in the Basque area of Spain, Scottish director Ben Sharrock’s comedy-drama follows a young couple as they attempt to consummate their relationship. The title translates as a discreet place where couples can meet for sex. There’s even an app listing locations though Gorka (Joseba Usabiaga) is so skint he can’t afford a phone, or in fact a car. Girlfriend Ane (Barbara Goenaga) is also struggling financially having recently completed her studies. Both are still living at home with their parents. Mostly they just hang out having conversations about their hopes for the future. Their ambitions are modest. She’s contemplating going to Edinburgh. That’s how bleak things seem, working in a hotel in Scotland seems like an attractive proposition. Gorka has an apprenticeship in a factory, but knows getting the job will keep him there for life.  The film’s deadpan humour and the muted sadness of the characters are reminiscent of Roy Andersson, while Sharrock often frames his characters in the corner of the screen, or against plain backdrops to make them seem isolated by their surroundings. Pikadero is prescient about problems facing working-class twenty-somethings in the current economic climate and its ending is quietly devastating.

The Love Witch (Anna Biller)

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Beautiful witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson) moves to a small town to start a new life after the death of her lover. Though outwardly she seems positive and intent on pleasing men her voice-over makes it clear she’s unhappy. Despite her recent heartbreak she’s intent on finding the man of her dreams and has concocted a love potion to help her identify him. Unfortunately this potion has side-effects reducing would-be alpha-males to weeping needy wrecks and eventually leaving them dead. Square-jawed Detective Griff Meadows (Gian Keys), follows the trail to Elaine’s door but arresting her is the last thing on his mind when he sets eyes on her.

Anna Biller’s stunning retro-styled fairytale borrows the iconography from classic movies but the result is anything but derivative. There are nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho, melancholy Italian horror movies, Douglas Sirk melodramas, and Jacques Demy’s fairytale romances but The Love Witch has most in common with Angela Carter’s feminist reworking of Brothers Grimm stories with Biller is using familiar tropes to critique female roles and masculinity in popular culture.

Moon Dogs (Philip John)

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Visually impressive coming-of-age road movie with an impressive score by Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Screenwriter Raymond Friel’s original draft was apparently a raucous teen comedy and you can still see traces of his original intent here but the finished film is more interested in the emotional journey taken by the youngsters. Michael (Jack Parry Jones) follows his girlfriend to the mainland when her family moves to Glasgow. Dragging his troubled step-brother Thor (Christy O’Donnell) along with him the two team up with Irish singer Caitlin (Tara Lee) who’s heading for a Celtic music festival in the city. I didn’t always appreciate the humour and Caitlin is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but director Philip John and his director of photography Alasdair Walker make spectacular use of locations making Moon Dogs feels like a distinctly Scottish take on a well-worn genre.

Sixty Six

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Director Lewis Khlar is primarily a collage artist and Sixty-Six is a collection of twelve short films formed from magazine cut-outs and Roy Liechtenstein pop-art drawings all telling stories formed from 50s’ Melodrama and Film Noir. I haven’t heard an audience give out an audible sigh of relief when a film ended since albert Serra’s Story of My Life at LFF a few years ago but it’s worth the effort.

EIFF 2016 – Whisky Galore! (Gillies Mackinnon)

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This remake of alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing classic Whisky Galore! (1949) has been in development since the early 2000’s. Every so often the producers would attempt to drum up publicity in the press and people would wonder why bother remaking one of the great Scottish films? Production was shelved a decade ago due to a problem with funding and arguments over casting. Now that the film has finally been made it turns out to be a modest success. Peter McDougall’s screenplay is wryly funny and captures the spirit of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, while Gregor Fisher gives a warm-hearted performance as the wily postmaster Macroon.

The story remains much the same save for the addition of a sub-plot about important documents relating to the royal family which would have got the original filmmakers done for treason. On the isolated Isle of Todday wartime rationing has restricted the availability of whisky. Much to the consternation of the Islanders they’ve drank their fill and the island is now dry. While Macroon is one of the most respected men on the island, he’s not known for his joviality. A widower with two daughters, both of whom are keen to marry and may well leave for the mainland. The last thing he needs is a period of sobriety.

When the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground carrying a cargo of whisky meant for the United States the locals mobilise although not before the local Kirk minister (James Cosmo) makes them observe the longest Sabbath of their lives. Technically taking anything from the ship is theft so hapless Home Guardsman Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) chases them all over the island trying to find proof of their subterfuge.

Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (1983) and the TV series Hamish Macbeth (1994) did more with this kind of material and like the original Whisky Galore! tell us a great deal about the time when they were made. Mackinnon’s film is a nostalgic period piece, but not without charm. What’s missing is any sense of there being something to lose for these people. Izzard is too buffoonish to pose any real threat while Basil Radford in the 49’ version seemed like the sort of ‘decent’ person who would ruin people’s lives over the most trivial of matters. It’ll pass a Sunday afternoon quite nicely though and older viewers might enjoy hearing Gregor Fisher reprising his Hebridean news anchor accent from his Naked Video (1986-91) days.

EIFF 2016 – Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller)

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Went into Maggie’s Plan expecting an earnest drama like The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), but Rebecca Miller’s latest turns out to be a highly entertaining comedy. Greta Gerwig plays the titular Maggie who feels she’s ready for motherhood but not marriage. Old college friend Guy (Travis Fimmel) is keen on a more traditional form of impregnation, but agrees to donate sperm and play no further part should Maggie become pregnant. Good-looking, but with an intense manner and clearly suffering from social awkwardness, Guy studied as a mathematician but dropped out and became a “pickle entrepreneur” growing and bottling his own product.

While teaching at college she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a handsome professor and literary star moving away from theory to writing his first novel. John frequently talks about his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) in disparaging terms and implies she’s ruining his life. Maggie begins an affair despite being warned by her friend Tony (Bill Hader) not to get involved with a married man. Cut to three years later and Maggie and John are together with a young daughter plus sharing custody of his two children with Georgette. John is still writing the same novel though and is a feckless father, leaving all the hard work to Maggie while he does his own thing. Maggie begins to resent him and comes up with a plan to return him to his first wife.

Lighter in tone than her previous work with a whimsical style Woody allen has lost the knack for Miller gently pokes fun at the pretensions of her characters while remaining sympathetic to them. The manipulative and flighty Maggie could easily be unbearable but Gerwig makes her likeable despite her machinations. Moore is hilarious as Georgette whose few early appearances seem to confirm expectations she is some kind of caricature until gradually Miller reveals her humanity. Hawke is the film’s patsy, and it’s hard to to think Miller cast him without having read one of the actor’s own dreadful novels. Doubt I’ll see a scene I enjoy more this year than Moore handing him the burnt ashes of his character’s shitty novel.

EIFF 2016 – The Rezort (Steve Barker)

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For one terrible moment at the beginning of The Rezort it seems like the film might be a found footage movie but thankfully Barker is simply establishing we are in a post zombie epidemic world in which humanity fought back and won “the war.” The remaining undead have been successfully contained on an isolated island. Unfortunately super-rich company CEO Ms. Wilton (Claire Goose) has turned the place into a Westworld style theme park open to visitors who can purchase safari trips with the added bonus of using the zombies for target practice. Now a zombie theme park seems like a spectacularly stupid idea but then I remember a shipping company has rebuilt the Titanic and is currently taking bookings for a maiden voyage. So zombie theme park? Entirely plausible scenario.

In true horror movie style we are introduced to a variety of characters who probably won’t make it to the end of the movie. Odds-on favourite for final girl status Melanie (Jessica De Gouw) is a zombie massacre survivor currently undergoing therapy and in need of some closure. Also along for the trip are her suspiciously nice Irish boyfriend, ex-soldier Lewis (Martin McCann), mysterious loner archer (Dougray Scott), hippy-ish undead rights campaigner (Elen Rhys), teenagers Jack & Jay (Jassa ahluwalia, Derek Siow), and a group of obnoxious businessmen who are clearly first on the menu.

Steve Barker has a proven track record for low-budget features having previously directed the first two entries in the zombie-Nazi Outpost trilogy for Black Camel Productions. Both were filmed on location in Scotland in less than a month but despite the short production period Barker delivered two very effective genre movies. Black Camel once again produce, this time from a screenplay by Paul Gerstenberger.

Leading lady De Gouw, impressive on cult TV shows Dracula and Arrow, holds the film together. For some reason Dougray Scott is lumbered with an American accent just as fellow Brit Richard Coyle was in Outpost: Black Sun (2012). Gerstenberger’s screenplay makes clear allusions to the the refugee crisis and the situation in the Middle East. While the market is over-crowded with zombie films The Rezort is more thoughtful than most and entertaining enough to warrant its own Outpost style franchise.

EIFF 2016 – The Correspondence (Giuseppe Tornatore)

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In this odd otherworldly love story post-grad astrophysics student and part time movie stunt performer Amy Ryan (Olga Kurylenko) is having an affair with her much older tutor Professor Ed Phoerum (Jeremy Irons).  First seen in an anonymous hotel room with a grunting Irons looking like he’s about to launch into some of the erotic manoeuvres from Louis Malle’s Damages (1992), they then go their separate ways making sure nobody sees them. Ed is married with a grown-up daughter (Shauna MacDonald) and a young son, but the two still communicate every day though by text or Skype. Ed seems paternalistic, not surprising given the considerable age difference, but Irons & Kurylenko remain convincing as lovers because her character is clearly looking for a father figure and he’s still a handsome chap.

Suddenly Ed disappears from her life, keeping in touch with Amy only through cryptic messages by text, email, or DVD recordings sent by courier. She travels to his hometown of Edinburgh (posh Scot, no need for an accent) to find out more about his absence. There are little moments that appear to be supernatural portents, a Labrador dog who approaches her in a park and seems to be trying to communicate something, a leaf banging repeatedly against her window, endless talk of parallel worlds and other selves, but the truth behind’s Ed’s absence may be something altogether simpler.

This could just as easily have been a thriller about a controlling male tormenting his lover and to be fair the film does address these concerns towards the end, but the overall mood is romantic and it just about hangs together. As with Tornatore’s last film 2014’s  The Best Offer (which felt like an upmarket version of a giallo), The Correspondence is flawed but fascinating. Scenes of Amy performing elaborate action movie scenes seem incongruous until the stunts begin to mirror her emotional state of mind. Ennio Morricone’s score helps matters, the use of electric guitar in one long recurring suite recalls Local Hero (1983, Bill Forsyth), another Scottish set film which used the landscape to magical effect.

EIFF 2016 -Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

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Funny and moving adaptation of Barry Crumb’s novel ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ from the director of What We Do in the Shadows. Taika Waititi’s film follows the misadventures of mismatched pair Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a 13-year old delinquent from the city, and 65-year old Hec (Sam Neill), as they inadvertently become fugitives and the subject of a massive manhunt through the New Zealand bush.

Repeat offender Ricky Baker has been given one last chance. Adapt to life in the country with new foster parents Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec or face life in juvenile detention. Militaristic social welfare officer Paula (Rachel House) wants to put Ricky away, rattling off a list to Bella of relatively minor crimes (“spitting!”) she considers to be serious but which are clearly the actions of a bored kid. Though at first Bella seems like a comic caricature with her over-the-top enthusiasm and her cat faced jumper, she’s smart and likable and wins Ricky’s trust. Hec remains aloof though preferring his own company, but Ricky finally feels like he has a place to call home.

When things go awry Ricky takes off but his attempts to go Bush prove hopeless, and Hec finds the starving youngster but unforeseen circumstances force them to camp out in the bush for a month. On the way home they stop at a bothy (no idea what Kiwi’s call a hut for travellers in the country). Pinned to the wall is a news article suggesting Hec may have abducted Ricky and warning people to look out for them. With Hec having done time in the past and Ricky facing being returned to the child welfare system the pair decide to go on the run, pursued by the clearly unhinged Paula, social services, the police, a trio of dim-witted hunters, and eventually the military.

While Waikiki’s earlier films Eagle Versus Shark (2007) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014) were similarly colourful affairs Hunt For the Wilderpeople is much larger in scale. With its use of the landscape and subplot about a rare animal hiding in the forest it put me in mind of another Sam Neill movie The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim), essentially delivering a comic version of the themes present in that film as this taciturn loner learns become an unlikely surrogate father to a young boy.

Neill is an effortlessly charismatic straight-man while Dennison is a real find making a character who could easily have been irritating lovable. There’s also a welcome cameo from Rhys Darby as a conspiracy nut hiding out in the jungle, and Waikiki makes a brief appearance as a Church Minister with an unusual line in eulogies. A huge hit in New Zealand, Hunt for the Wilderpeople should do well internationally. Marvel fans might want to seek it out as Waikiki will be directing the next Thor movie.

 

52 Films By Women – May

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. Been a bit busy this month so only managed two entries but will catch up. Both of these are first time watches.

17. Solaris (1968, Lidiya Ishimbayeva, Boris Nirenburg)

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Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science-fiction novel has been well served by cinema versions from Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and Steven Soderbergh (2002), but this 1968 Russian TV adaptation got there first. The film faithfully adapts Lem’s story about a psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (Vasiliy Lavanov) travelling to a ship orbiting the planet Solaris and finding the few remaining members of the crew are experiencing visitations from people from their own pasts. Kelvin soon encounters his own visitor, in the form of his dead wife Hari (Antonina Pilyus), her otherness expressed through an establishing close-up, her face half in shadow, the shot held for an unsettlingly length of time until it dawns on Chris what he’s seeing.

Lacking the resources to show the ocean planet or an elaborately designed space-ship co-directors Lidiya Ishimbayeva and Boris Nirenburg still manage to create a feeling of being off-world. The set design looks like a 60s’ Communist era hotel with lo-fi sci-fi tech added but this minimalism works. This is a story about haunted spaces and their framing and use of camera angles gives the film an otherness and also suggests we are observing them as perhaps the sentient planet is watching them too.  It’s an interesting adaptation though it may only be of interest to fans of the original novel or as a counterpoint to its more famous cinema cousins.

It seems Ishimbayeva worked on a number of other films although her IMDb entry only mentions Solaris and I found it quite difficult finding a resource for Soviet cinema prior to 1989 so any recommendations or information about her career would be welcome.

18) Beyond (2010, Pernilla August)

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Directorial debut of actress Pernilla August (The Best Intentions) about the lasting effects a traumatic childhood can have on a person. Noomi Rapace plays Leena, who reluctantly returns to her hometown when she finds out her mother is dying. Her well-meaning husband (Ola Rapace) insists on accompanying her against her wishes so they move with their two young children back into the family home. Cue flashbacks to Leena’s upbringing in the 70s’ as she remembers her parents drink-fuelled destructive relationship. Leena has done everything to forget her past and confronting it begins to bring out the worst in her putting a strain on her own marriage and affecting her own relationship with her kids. Beyond is a tough watch but rewarding. It’s often quite upsetting, but it perfectly conveys that feeling of dread in households like these where any kind of an argument, however innocuous,  can lead to violence.

EIFF 2016 – Preview

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Artistic director Mark Adams unveiled the lineup for the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival taking place between the 15th and 26th of June. It’s an interesting lineup continuing the Festival’s current admirable direction towards discovering smaller independent movies. I’ve been looking through the programme and here are my highlights though as ever with festivals there will hopefully be a few new discoveries along the way.

EIFF is notorious for opening on a downer and we’ll soon find out if Tommy’s Honour, a Scottish film starring the ubiquitous Peter Mullan can buck the trend. It does have the novelty value of being directed by former Robin of Sherwood star Jason Connery though.

The knives are ready and sharpened for the closing night gala, a remake of the Ealing classic Whisky Galore! It comes with a long and troubled production history and a previous attempt to film it back in 2006 fell apart. The official website for the film is a bit odd, even chastising original director Alexander Mackendrick for the “folly” of choosing to film the original in black and white.

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Yet there’s some serious talent involved. Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) directs, while the screenplay is written by Peter McDougall whose name probably means little outside Scotland but back in the 70s’ and 80s’ he wrote a series of uncompromising television plays including Just a Boy’s Game and A Sense of Freedom then stopped writing for the screen altogether in the early 90s.’ I’m not expecting it to match the original but at least it should be interesting.

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s fascinating looking The Lure is described in the programme as a musical fairytale about two mermaids working in a burlesque club with “kitsch, communist-era styling and off-the-wall collection of upbeat 80s’ songs.”

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s last film, the haunting La Migliore Offerta was given a shabby straight-to-DVD release in the UK under the non-descript title Deception and edited for length so hopefully The Correspondence will fare better. It’s partly set in Edinburgh with Jeremy Irons as an academic carrying on an affair with former student Olga Kurylenko.

My enthusiasm for Maggie’s Plan is tempered by an deep loathing of Ethan Hawke but apparently the movie spends a great deal of time making fun of his pretensions. Hitman movie Mr Right (Paco Cabezas) features Anna Kendrick falling for Sam Rockwell’s dance-loving hitman, and Mark Cousins Bigger than the Shining focuses on premonition in the movies and male rage.

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There’s also Sam Neill in New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waitit). Thomas Vinterberg’s hippy movie The Commune, 24 stalwart John Cassar directing Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in western The Forsaken, and Dougray Scott as a zombie hunter in Steve (Outpost) Barker’s The Rezort.

Adams mentioned at the press launch that Scottish road-movie Moon Dogs (Philip John) is well worth seeing. Other recommendations from folks who’ve attended festivals elsewhere include Mammal (Rebecca Daly), Sand Storm (Elite Zexer), and Parched (Tannishtha Chatterjee). There’s also a couple of Gerard Depardieu movies, The End (Guillaume Nicloux) and Saint Amour (Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kerven), but I doubt EIFF will have invited him back after he got waylaid in a pub on the Isle of Skye and never made it to the Festival for a screening of Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara) a couple of years ago.

Pow!!! Live Action Comic Strip Adaptations: The First Generation

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Looking at the early days of comic book adaptations this retrospective has a fine mixture of pop art classics including to quote Ralph Fiennes in The Lego Batman trailer, “that weird one in 1966,” the Batman (Leslie H. Martinson) movie. Monica Vitti changing her hairstyle in every scene for Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Vadim’s sexually charged Barbarella, Corrado Farina’s beautiful Baba Yaga, and I envy anybody seeing Mario Bava’s sublime Danger Diabolik on the big screen for the first time.

Altman’s Popeye was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema and it will be interesting to see if my adult self dislikes it as much as I did when I was five. Mike Hodges camp classic Flash Gordon is always welcome, with Sam Jones likeable hero travelling into space and encountering magnificently ripe performances from Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Max von Sydow.

Only ever seen Shogun Assassin, the edited together travesty cut from two Lone Wolf Cub movies so look forward to seeing one of the originals Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi).  Also new to me are hitman movie Golgo 13 (Jun’ya Sato), Pam Grier Blaxploitation movie Friday Foster (Arthur Marks), and Tin Tin and the Golden Fleece (Jean-Jacques-Vierne) a remarkable looking live action adaptation of Herge’s classic comic book series.

Adapting Miss Highsmith

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Patricia Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenker delivers her talk, ‘The Talented Miss Highsmith: What She Did For Love about Carol/The Price of Salt and how it ties into the rest of her work plus screenings of Carol (Todd Haynes) and Michel Deville’s Deep Water starring Isabelle Huppert.

A Celebration and Critical Appraisal of the Cinema du Look 

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Cinema du Look was initially derived as a dismissive term for the work of a trio of young French directors (Leos Carax, Jean-Jacques Beiniex, and Luc Besson) in the 80s by critic Raphael Bassan who who felt their films had more style than substance. Many still feel that way. Only Carax carries any kind of critical respect, while Beineix has fallen away, and the ridiculously prolific Besson now churns out genre movies through his highly profitable Europacorp studio. These films were often simplistic in terms of worldview, but incredibly complex in terms of their use of imagery and music and they redefined the look of French cinema.

EIFF are showing seven movies. Carax’s sci-fi love story Mauvais Sang, famous for the clip of Denis Lavant dancing through the street to David Bowie’s Modern Love, and his grand folly Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. From Beineix, his wonderful thriller Diva, and the more problematic Betty Blue. Mercifully we’re spared his Roselyne and the Lions. Besson gets the MVP treatment with three films screening. Christopher Lambert’s lovelorn thief hiding out in the Paris Metro in Subway, Anne Pariallaud as the punk turned assassin La Femme Nikita, and the astonishingly beautiful Jean Marc-Barr in his free-diving epic The Big Blue.

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There’s another retrospective showing a peak period Christopher Lambert movie. This time a restored version of Highlander is getting a 30th anniversary screening with the Kurgan himself Clancy Brown attending. Devotees of the film will know Brown rarely talks about his time working on the movie due to a fallout with the film’s producers so this could be an interesting evening.

So far there are In Person events with Diva bad guy Dominique Pinon, legendary British producer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator Jeremy Thomas, and if you still have enough affection for his 90s’ work Kevin Smith will be there. Adams suggested there will be more stars announced in the next few weeks.

What Does a Movie Star Need a Rocket For Anyway?

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This is my contribution to the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows And Satin, and Silver Screenings. I’ve chosen Timothy Dalton’s suave turn in Joe Johnson’s highly entertaining adventure movie The Rocketeer (1991). Considered a flop on its initial release The Rocketeer now has a deserved cult following and Dalton’s performance as Neville Sinclair, the dastardly movie star who’s secretly involved in a Nazi plan to conquer America, is a huge part of the film’s appeal. Contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen The Rocketeer now is the time to stop reading.

“It’s a rocket, like in the comic books.”

Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo’s witty screenplay retains the nostalgia for 30s’ movie serials, horror films, and dime-store novels present in Dave Stevens original 1982 comic book but changes certain aspects. In Stevens original comic there is no Neville Sinclair. Instead the hero’s main adversary is Lothar, a highly intelligent former circus strongman on a mission of revenge for the death of his beloved who died when an escapology act went wrong. For Lothar, Stevens borrowed the appearance of Rondo Hatton, the 40s’ B-movie villain whose remarkable features were the result of acromegaly. Though Lothar retains Hatton’s physical characteristics in the movie he’s a lunk, a henchman working for Dalton’s Nazi spy.

The leads have also been altered to fit the wholesome family image required of a Disney production. In the comic Cliff is a tarnished angel, a wayward flyboy running from his past and complicit in the death of Lothar’s girlfriend. In the film he becomes a clean cut all-American boy played by former Dynasty star and Moldavian Massacre victim Billy Campbell. Likewise his girlfriend in the comic is not just inspired by 50s’ glamour model Betty Page, she clearly is Betty Page right down to her chosen career as an ‘art’ model. Not going to happen in a Disney movie so worldly Betty becomes sweet wannabe actress Jenny (Jennifer Connelly).

“What’s going on Sinclair? Lenny’s dead, Wilmer’s all wrapped up like a mummy in County General. You didn’t play straight with me.”

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Dalton is the money on this picture though. Between Bond movies as legal troubles kept Eon Productions from moving forward with what would have been their third Dalton 007 outing ‘The Property of a Lady.’ We first see Neville Sinclair in a meeting with the Mob boss Eddie (Paul Sorvino) he hired to steal the prototype rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’ Quinn). Instead the prototype has ended up in the hands of Cliff and his mentor Peevy (Alan Arvin) though Sinclair does not yet know this. Dalton looks every inch the matinee idol pulling off the fashion for a pencil thin moustache a la Fairbanks & Flynn which is something not every contemporary actor can manage. He’s wearing leather breeches, a white shirt, and carrying a fencing sword giving us an immediate indication of the type of movie star Sinclair is and also recalling Dalton’s own turn as the dashing Prince Baron in Mike Hodges Flash Gordon (1980).

Eddie does not like being talked down to by somebody he clearly thinks is a fake so resorts to intimidation to try and find out what the package is, but Sinclair doesn’t flinch. Only when Eddie calls him “half a lunatic” does he snap and hold his rapier to the gangster’s throat. The matter is settled by Sinclair offering more money and revealing what the package involves but not what he intends to do with it. From this scene we learn everything we need to know about Sinclair. Strong, smart, physically capable, maybe a little crazy, and willing to do anything to get hold of the rocket. There’s also a hint of villainy which occasionally reveals itself from behind the movie star facade.

“Neville Sinclair? Oh brother. This I gotta see.”

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Cliff and Jenny give us more insight into Sinclair’s star persona when they head to the movies on a date. Jenny is desperate to see the new Sinclair movie but Cliff is not so keen preferring Jimmy Cagney. “Lounging around in a dressing gown and walking poodles in the park” says Cliff dismissively. This marks him out from the swashbuckling actors Sinclair’s looks are modelled on, Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn appealed to both male and female audiences. Sinclair is a bit more Ronald Colman, the ladies choice, and the jibe about dressing gowns and poodles suggests Sinclair makes classy dramas set in drawing rooms and romances. Only when Jenny explains it’s a war movie called ‘Wings of Honour’ with Sinclair as a pilot does Cliff give in.

Later in the diner Cliff describes the movie to his flying buddies who all join him in taking the piss while Jenny sulks. No point explaining to them the champagne bottle he drops behind enemy lines at the end is symbolic. These guys will probably roll their eyes when they see Claude Raines do the same thing at the end of Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) with a bottle of Vichy wine. Here we sense a possible rift between these two youngsters. Cliff is happy enough in his world and not seeking to move beyond it while Jenny wants more from life and from her boyfriend. A situation Sinclair will exploit later in the movie when he begins to work his charm on Jenny.

“She gets to play a scene with Neville Sinclair and we play scenery.”

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Jenny is an extra in Sinclair’s latest production, ‘The Laughing Bandit.” It’s a The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz) style swashbuckler with Dalton dressed up in a Fairbanks/Flynn type outfit and engaged in a Rathbone style duel with a Sheriff of Nottingham type. After running through the villain he swings on a chandelier and lands on a banquet table grabbing a goblet of wine and drinking it down. The take is ruined though by the producer’s daughter cast as the love interest, murdering her only line in a “Yonder lies the castle of our fadder” accent. Dalton’s disgusted reaction shot is priceless, and the first moment he will drop his guard during this sequence and show the villain.

The next take runs smoothly but is ruined by somewhat by Cliff wandering onto the set looking for Jenny and knocking the fake castle wall onto Sinclair.  “Never let it be said Neville Sinclair never brought the house down” but secretly he’s raging. Somehow in the melee it escaped everybody’s attention he deliberately stabbed his co-star for attempting to steal the scene.

Sinclair takes the director aside and demands Jenny be fired, at least until he overhears Cliff describing the rocket pack to Jenny, who isn’t really listening because her boyfriend just flattened a movie star with a castle and cost her her job.. Sinclair pushes most of the crew out of the way to get to Jenny before she leaves. Offering her a part in his next movie Sinclair suggests a date at the South Seas Club, the fancy restaurant she mentioned earlier to Cliff when she complained about having to eat at the diner again.

“Who do you think they’ll believe? A cheap crook or the number three box-office draw in America?”

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The contrast between Sinclair’s world and Cliff’s is clear. The South Seas Club is the sort of place where a cabaret singer starts her act by emerging from a giant clam and singing a Cole Porter song. The first person they meet is Clark Gable, W.C. Fields visits them at their table and compliments Jenny on her breasts. In this scene Sinclair tries to charm the unwitting Jenny into revealing more information about Cliff and the possible whereabouts of the rocket pack. It’s reminiscent of the scene in The Living Daylights (1987, John Glen) where Dalton Bond tries to get Kara Milovy to trust him by claiming to have been sent by her lover to help her. He’s charming as hell even though he’s lying through his teeth.

All through this sequence there are cutaways to Cliff as he tries to escape from Lothar beginning with a scene recalling the opening of Hemingway’s ‘The Killers’ as Eddie’s goons threaten the patrons at the diner, while Lothar pursues Cliff across LA until he ends up sneaking into the South Seas and donning a waiter’s uniform. Interrupting Sinclair & Jenny’s meal it is then we see a side of Sinclair that proves his true villainy. He’s rude to waiting staff. It’s all downhill from there and the evening ends the only way a date like this can, with Sinclair firing a Tommy Gun at Jenny’s boyfriend as he flies through the glass roof in a rocket pack invented by Howard Hughes.

“a spy? A sabouteur? A fascist? All of the above.”

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While Cliff makes his escape Jenny ends up captive in Sinclair’s boudoir. He tries to charm his way out, claiming he was blackmailed into kidnapping her, but he makes a grevious error. She’s a fan, and he starts spinning lines of dialogue from his back catalogue. “You said that to Greta Garbo…” Sinclair changes tack by offering Jenny a dress from the fine selection he keeps in his wardrobe, but hell hath no fury like a scorned fan. Jenny lamps him from behind with a vase.  Locating a radio in Sinclair’s basement she tries to call for help, but a German voice answers. The penny finally drops when she finds his Nazi handbook.

“I do my own stunts.”

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Nazi spy rings were active in America but there does not seem to have been any Hollywood stars who showed much of an interest in fascism, or at least if they did they kept it to themselves. There was however an anti-Nazi League whose members included Edward G. Robinson and Groucho Marx. It seems even Hollywood stars as dodgy as Errol Flynn had some limits, as do mobsters in this movie with Eddie turning against Sinclair when he finds out he’s been working for the Nazis.

The finale takes place on that pinnacle of Nazi aviation, the Zeppelin with Cliff and Sinclair having a James Bond/Red Grant style punch-up in an enclosed area. It’s a pretty even affair with both actors handling themselves well, but ended abruptly by the inherent design flaw of the Zeppelin essentially being a fire hazard and a massive hydrogen bomb. Cliff actually asks Sinclair to help them escape, mistakingly believing a movie star must  have a conscience. Sinclair drops his English RP delivery for the first time and speaks in his German accent as he makes his farewells. “I’ll miss Hollywood,” Cliff deliberately sabotaged the rocket though, but Sinclair is right, he does miss Hollywood, hitting instead the LAND part of the famous sign and and destroying it.

“Film fans were saddened by the news that actor Neville Sinclair was killed in a tragedy when flaming debris fell on his touring car…”

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Hollywood hides the true nature of Sinclair’s death with a fake story that keeps the movie star’s legend alive. Some Eddie Mannix style fixer will have had the night of his life covering up a mass shoot-out between mobsters and Nazi stormtroopers, a burning Zeppelin flying over Los Angeles, and the reason why the famous HOLLYWOODLAND sign reads differently this morning. It’s the perfect Hollywood ending for a film that functions equally well as an adventure movie and a love letter to classic era cinema.