Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Saint Joan (1957)

Based on a play by George Bernard Shaw and adapted by Graham Greene, Saint Joan tells the story of Joan of Arc from her first approach to the French army up until her death. Starring Jean Seberg as the title character, the cast also includes Richard Widmark as The Dauphin, Charles VII, Richard Todd as Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, Anton Walbrook as Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais and John Gielgud as the Earl of Warwick.

I've discovered that a common criticism of Saint Joan is that it is a static film, too reliant on the stage productions to turn itself into an adequate film. I partially agree with this because of one vital point - we don't see Joan in action, we only see her stirring people to action and the aftermath of this action. For me, that diluted the power of the character somewhat. This was mitigated in part by the tremendous scenes between Joan and The Dauphin as she stirs him to stand up for himself and his people.

However, the film is not designed to be completely realistic. It is more an analysis of politics and motivation than a step-by-step account of Joan's life and death. This is evidenced by the fact that the story begins with an elderly Charles VII is visited by Joan's ghost in his dream. That chamber gets quite crowded by the end of the film.

Jean Seberg was picked from 18,000 hopefuls to star in this, her first film role. With that in mind, her performance is very impressive. There are a few moments when she strays into melodrama but, for the most part, her performance is in keeping with the character. The rest of the cast are excellent too, particularly Richard Widmark and John Gielgud.

If you take this film as a piece of art and not as a dramatic representation of Joan's life, it works. Don't expect battles but do expect subtle touches and intricate dialogue.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Book Review: Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

D.J Taylor takes the famous Epsom Derby as the centrepiece for this novel. Around it, he weaves a complex web of characters worthy of Dickens. At the heart of this book is a horse called Tiberius. At the outset, he's owned by Mr Davenant, an in-debt Lincolnshire squire, but the unscrupulous Mr Happerton is hoping to get his hands on him, aided by his friend, Captain Raff. Happerton has just married the daughter of Mr Gresham, who finds himself falling ill and becoming more amenable to his son-in-law than he had intended. In addition to these, we are also introduced to a few other characters as the narrative progresses.

I have to say, I found this a little difficult to get into, probably because of the necessity of flicking around the introduce the various characters. The middle and end was much more enjoyable, as I located my favourite characters and grew to know them. There's the intelligent Rebecca Happerton, more than complicit in fleecing her father, who I yearned to learn a little more about. Then there are the Lincolnshire characters with their own little subplots plus the ageing jockey, Major Hubbins. The most surprising character turned out to be Captain Raff, who captured my attention in the middle of the book and stayed strong until the end.

It's very difficult to analyse a book with this scope so I'll just pick out a few choice facts. You don't need to be interested in horse racing for it to be enjoyable and the most important thing about this novel is the characterisation and description. Scroop Hall is a magnificent creation, full of echoes of Chesney Wold in Bleak House. There is a character 'summing-up' section to tie up loose ends which may not appeal to modern readers but to aficionados of Victorian fiction it's a pleasurable throwback. Finally, the actual up-close depiction of the Epsom Derby is luscious and I loved the reporter involved in the finale.

This is an excellent book for lovers of neo-Victorian fiction. Definite echoes of Dickens with some touches of Collins and Thackeray thrown in plus some witty observations courtesy of the narrator.

Upcoming Event: Battle of the Books at Wakefield Literature Festival

I'm very excited to announce that I'll be organising and hosting the 'Battle of the Books' event on Sunday 29th September, 1-3 pm, at The Orangery. Thanks to a successful funding application (see below), I'm putting together what I hope will be an enjoyable afternoon.

Here's the premise.

Every participant will have five minutes to 'sell' their favourite book. Now, this can be a novel, work of non-fiction, poetry collection, play, graphic novel - whatever you want. All you have to do is make it sound good. That's easy, right? It's up to you what you decide to focus on. You could go with plot, character, design, wider meaning or anything that you find particularly endearing about your choice. The only rules are that you have to use your vocal powers of persuasion alone and you only have five minutes.

Aside from the glory (which is, of course, abundant), there will be prizes on the day following a secret vote to see who 'sold' their book best. Prizes will be drawn from local retailers making this a truly Yorkshire event.

And, just to sweeten the pot a little more, there will be refreshments and treats available during the event - in case the pressure gets too much for you.

So, does it sound like your kind of afternoon? Tickets are £2 and places are limited to 15 to allow everyone their five minutes of persuasion. Visit the page linked to below if you want to book and feel free to ask me any questions!

New for 2013 Wakefield Lit Fest, ‘Seed Funded’ events are a series of curated events organised independently by local groups and individuals with a passion for literature. An open call for ideas for festival events was made in July, with successful events being given financial support from the Lit Fest through Arts Council England Grants for the Arts funding.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


That sinking ship feeling - everyone gets it. When you're clinging to the side and hoping the problems will mysteriously right themselves as you feel the water getting ever closer. At the moment, though, I get the impression my ship has sunk. There I am in the water with debris floating all around me and not sure which direction to try and swim in.

Each section of debris correlates to part of my life right now. One section is that pesky PhD. Coincidentally, that is the section that has broken into the most pieces, scattering fragments far and wide. To put it back together is going to require sustained thought but, as I tread water, I wonder if I'm capable of that.

You see, over there, in the opposite direction, is the grandmother section. Common sense tells me to swim to that bit first because it's sinking. That's what ninety years on this planet does for you but I owe it to her to swim towards her and try to rebuild her life so it's at least bearable. That, however, is a full time job and, while I ponder undertaking it, the jigsaw pieces of my thesis are drifting further and further away from each other. What seems to be happening is that I swim towards one, change my mind, swim back, change my mind again. That's going to keep nothing afloat for long, especially not my tired body.

And, of course, there are other sections of debris, smaller but no less important. Picture novel manuscripts cast along the sea, paper fragments soaking up the water and breaking apart. Picture essays I'm trying to write doing the same, picture groups of people gradually getting further away from me because I can't physically hold on to them and nothing else. Picture my relationship that actually seems to have found a boat and is rowing away from me while I, quite honestly, don't try to follow.

However, perhaps there's hope. In the middle of the darkness I find there's a solitary rock that I can cling on to. It doesn't help me gather the pieces together but it does at least allow me to keep them all in sight. I can make expeditions to the outskirts and try to reassemble the fragments but, when I fail, the rock is still there. There's a lot to be said for that rock. It keeps me afloat when I feel I can swim any more and it makes me realise that I may be out here marooned but I'm not alone and there will be an end to it. It just may take more perseverance and emotional reserves than I gave it credit for when I started out this journey. But at least I'm not alone.

Monday, 19 August 2013

A Visit to Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

Last week, me and my father paid a visit to Brodsworth Hall and Gardens near Doncaster (it was to celebrate his 60th birthday but he won't thank me for broadcasting that!). While I was ambivalent about the house itself, I found the gardens superb. I think the problem is that the gardens have been regenerated while the house, in parts, has been left to stagnate. While the drawing room and the morning room were gorgeous, other sections of the house didn't live up to expectation. I think it needs to decide whether it wants to be a memorial to the people who lived there last (it was a late sell-off to English Heritage in 1990) or to its heyday. As a Victorianist, I know which I'd prefer!

Anyway, since I was so enamoured by the gardens, I took a few photos to share with you. Unfortunately, you didn't get any of the croquet match that was going on in the grounds - I was too worried about the potential damage they could do to my head if I tried snapping them. 

This first one is the fountain and flowerbeds visible, through a break in the hedge, from parts of the house. It's lusciously arranged, very colourful at the height of summer. In the background is the summer house. 

This is the view of the house from the heights of the summer house. The clouds add a little atmosphere.

I was particularly attracted by the pet cemetery in a little corner of the grounds. 

The little secluded pit is stunning. You come upon it fairly suddenly and there are paths above and below. The first one I took from the vantage point of the steps above and the second one from beside the archway you can see in the first. 

This is the shooting house. Very pleasant in both situation and design. I had a quick look inside but it was too crowded for my liking. 

Below is a section of the 'showcase' aspect of the gardens, displaying plants and trees of many nationalities. It's very tranquil there and I could have stayed there for hours - again, if it hadn't been for the people. 

Finally, this is the church that is just off the grounds and is a beautiful companion to them. 

One thing I'm looking forward to about finally getting a job is the prospect of English Heritage and National Trust memberships. It's not just the gorgeous properties I'm interested in. This visit to Brodsworth proved to me that a walk around grounds as beautiful as these can be both calming and inspiring. I could easily spend hours perched up by the summer house writing with the occasional sojourn to the cafe for tea and a scone. Though, next time, I'll make sure to sit inside - four wasps chased me halfway round the courtyard trying to steal my jam.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Classic Film Review: The Adventures of Michael Strogoff (1937)

The Adventures of Michael Strogoff, also known as The Soldier and the Lady and based on a work by Jules Verne, stars Anton Walbrook as the title character, a Russain courier who has been tasked with getting a message to another Russian base about a Tartar uprising. However, he is being followed by the glamorous traitor, Zangarra (Margot Grahame), reporting to her lover and fellow traitor, Ivan Ogareff (Akim Tamiroff). On his travels, Strogoff encounters a young woman, Nadia (Elizabeth Allan), and is also forced to pretend that he doesn't know his own mother (Fay Bainter).

From reading a little about this film, I've learned it was a mish-mash of fresh footage and material from the original French version. While the footage is integrated nicely, that answers some of the questions I had about different approaches to filming throughout, particularly in the group scenes. However, as well integrated as the two versions were, they still couldn't make this film altogether satisfying.

There seemed to be a distinctive lack of emotion from all the main players, with the exception of Fay Bainter. In an attempt to make Strogoff stoic, Walbrook gives him almost no personality bar a few flashes and the 'rescue' of his mother. It makes him a difficult protagonist to like and follow. Far more complex is Zangarra, who is a slightly more successful character.

Special mention must go to the two characters designed to add a little light relief to the film - Eric Blore and Edward Brophy as the British and American newspapermen trying to report on the war zone. While both are stereotypes, at least they have a little presence, rendering their scenes more memorable than the stoic Strogoff or the stereotypically villanous Ogareff.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

500th Post: A Selection of Under Appreciated Posts

Amazingly, three years after starting this blog I'm still going and I've hit another milestone. 500 posts seems a lot but, apparently, I can waffle for Britain. In the last few months this blog has become more a portal for classic film reviews than anything else. I'm loving exploring these old films and I hope my readers are finding some gems they haven't encountered before. Peppered in amongst these film reviews are book reviews (although I'm not reading for pleasure these days as much as I would wish), the occasional television review, updates on my personal life and my studies and some random thoughts as and when they occur to me.

Today, I wanted to share 25 posts with you that I wish had been read more. Many stem from the early days of the blog and I hope they provide some entertainment to you.

Five Classic Film Reviews
  1. Victim - A 1961 film about a homosexual barrister (Dirk Bogarde) seeking out a blackmailer. 
  2. Desk Set - A 1957 film where Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy battle over office computerisation. 
  3. Lifeboat - A 1944 Hitchcock film about the survivors of a shipwreck - and the enemy in their midst.
  4. Sister Kenny - A 1946 biopic of a pioneering nurse starring Rosalind Russell.
  5. My Favourite Wife - A 1940 film where Irene Dunne returns from the grave to claim her newly remarried husband, Cary Grant. 

Five Book Reviews
  1. Tell It To The Bees by Fiona Shaw 
  2. Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner 
  3. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
  5. The Scourging Angel by Benedict Gummer 

Fifteen 'Other' Posts
  1. 'Does Your Character Have a Political Agenda?' - In which I discuss my laziness. 
  2. 'Imitating Greats' - In which I discuss Henry Fielding and share a small sample of my MA work.
  3. 'The New Condition of England Novel?' - In which I discuss, shortly after the 2010 election, whether the 'genre' has ever faded. 
  4. 'Fear Itself' - In which I discuss how difficult fear is to portray.
  5. 'The End. Or Alternatively...' - In which I discuss Dickens, Sweet Charity and altered endings. 
  6. 'Be a Curious Clown' - In which I discuss the mysteries of grated cheese amongst other things.
  7. 'A Life in Museum Leaflets' - In which I discuss sorting through the cupboards of my grandparents.
  8. 'Seconds of Serenity' - In which I discuss rolling down a hill in Austria. 
  9. 'Using Profanities - Pure Laziness?' - In which I discuss whether swearing has lost its resonance.
  10. 'Regrets? I've Had a Few...' - In which I discuss my fearful personality. 
  11. 'The Depths of the Library' - In which I discuss a scary visit.
  12. 'Surprising Discoveries in the Early Hours' - In which I discuss finding a present from my late grandfather.
  13. 'Some Victoria Wood Optimism' - In which I discuss my favourite song of hers. 
  14. 'I Said Love - Or Did I?' - In which I discuss the necessity of spelling out emotions in fiction.
  15. 'Some Wise Words - Anne Bronte' - In which I discuss a favourite passage.

Thank you for reading...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Hotel Reserve (1944)

Hotel Reserve stars James Mason as an Austrian medical student living in France who is also a bit of an amateur photographer. His camera gets mixed up with someone else's and he finds himself arrested as a spy. The authorities believe his innocence but send him back to the hotel to investigate his fellow guests under the threat of having his naturalisation bid revoked. Among the people Vadassy has to investigate are the owner Suzanne Koch (Lucie Mannheim), who seems to be in a conspiracy with Emil Schmiler (Frederick Valk), and honeymooning couple, Andre (Herbert Lom) and Odette Roux (Patricia Medina).

While this film is peppered with tension, it didn't grip me as much as I thought it might. Mason is excellent as the anxious student stuck between doing something he really doesn't want to do and the threat of deportation. His scenes with Frederick Valk are particularly interesting but the film suffers from the audience knowing the truth all along. While this is meant to add to the suspense, it serves to make Vadassy's interactions with the rest of the cast a little redundant. For example, the innocent Mary Skelton (Clare Hamilton) would have been a viable suspect for her closeness to Vadassy, had the culprit not already been known. Plus, listing the suspects on the screen for the audiences' benefit was an annoying and lazy interlude.

Hotel Reserve does have some clever scenes - and some amusing ones too. The moment when Vadassy uses the brash Robert Duclos (Raymond Lovell) adds some lightness to a rather dark film. The finale chase was a little predictable but no less enjoyable for that fact. However, I do feel that the fate of Emil Schmiler could and should have been explored more, especially in its effect on Suzanne Koch. It was a subplot, yes, but one that needed more tying up than it had.

Overall, this is a good James Mason film, worth seeing for the leading man alone. While it is nothing spectacular, it does contain a grim foreboding of what is to come in France during the war.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Hindle Wakes (1952)

Also known as Holiday Week, Hindle Wakes tells the story of a young mill worker and her employer's son who become properly acquainted while on holiday in Blackpool. Jenny Hawthorn (Lisa Daniely) goes off with her friend, Mary (Sandra Dorne), wanting something different from the norm. She finds it when she encounters Alan Jeffcote (Brian Worth), a man she has always admired at home. She decides on a whim to go off to Wales with him, setting a tragic chain of events in motion.

Essentially, this film serves as an advert for Blackpool and Llandudno. The two are displayed at their best and, really, the setting becomes another character. As for the actual characters, there is no real chemistry between Jenny and Alan and her posh accent really does the character no justice at all - her parents, played by Leslie Dwyer and the wonderful Joan Hickson, are real Northerners and the impact of Jenny's character is diluted by the fact that she sounds no different to Alan and his family. Alan, meanwhile, is a difficult character to like - spoiled, selfish and workshy.

What was trundling along as a fairly contented film suddenly got very sombre very quickly, with a twist I wasn't expecting. From that point on, it became a much more serious prospect, divorced from the Big Dipper and picturesque beaches. I did feel that the tragedy didn't have the resonance in the finale that it could have and there were a few threads that could have been joined up to make Jenny feel worse about what had happened. However, I did think that the finale was half-true to Jenny's character - the other half would have remained discontented with it, I feel.

This is a good British film with some good performances along with pinches of overblown acting. It shows a snippet of Northern life whilst also grappling with the question of female sexuality and how it fits into the new world, although the play was written and set far earlier than this film version.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Classic Film Review: School for Scoundrels (1960)

School for Scoundrels stars Ian Carmichael as Henry Palfrey, one of life's losers. After his friend, Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), tries to steal his potential girlfriend, April (Janette Scott) from under his nose, he decides something must be done. He comes across the Lifeman college which purports to show men how to be in a constant state of 'one-up' over whoever he wants to be. The college is run by Mr Potter (Alastair Sim), who takes a great interest in Henry. When it's time for Henry to move into 'field work' it is Potter who accompanies him.

This is a very British film populated by very British characters. It also includes some traditional British symbols: tennis courts, dodging car dealing and the elitism of restaurants. It utilises these traditions to create an environment hostile to Henry in the first half of the film but one that he can manipulate in the second. As a comedy, then, it works, and, fortunately, Henry's character evolves so much to have become not only strong by the finale but also able to step back and look at what he's learned.

Carmichael puts in a good performance but, really, Terry-Thomas and Alastair Sim steal the show. Initially pompous and self-confident, Delauney has to face a resurgent Henry in the second half of the film and Terry-Thomas portrays this wonderfully, from the car prang down to the tennis court. Equally, Mr Potter portrays his suave character perfectly. Special mention must go to the used car salesmen played by Dennis Price and Peter Jones who are a delight to watch, both when they're swindling and when they're the ones being swindled.

With small appearances from Hattie Jacques, Hugh Paddick and John Le Mesurier, this film surpassed my expectations and proved very enjoyable. I thought the preamble before Henry's initiation into 'college' life was a little too long but it was necessary to set everything up for later. Perfect balance of set ups and pay offs make School for Scoundrels a very good British comedy.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Classic Film Review: To Catch a Thief (1955)

To Catch a Thief stars Cary Grant as ex-cat burglar John Robie. When a new spate of burglaries occur on the Riviera, Robie is instantly suspected and, mindful that the police won't give him a fair hearing, he escapes from them and sets about proving his own innocence with the help of insurance agent H.H Hughson (John Williams). He identifies mother and daughter Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis) and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) as potential victims and latches on to them but Frances is wise to his deception and doesn't trust him an inch.

I'm afraid that the editing and dubbing on this film was one of the worst I've seen, especially in such an otherwise excellent film. It really put me off, particularly the use of a non-English speaking actor, Charles Vanel, as important character Bertani. Rather than getting immersed in the story I found myself thinking how bad the dubbing was and that's not to mention the pasting together of shots, most noticeably during the rooftop chase, that pulled me back from the story.

The actual plot is excellent and Cary Grant is at his best as the reformed cat-burglar. He and Grace Kelly work well together as friendly adversaries, though I have to say that my favourite scenes came with Grant interacting with Jessie Royce Landis as Jessie Stevens. The characters interacted so beautifully, particularly in the bedroom scene where she lets him escape. Equally, John Williams as the upright insurance agent is a pleasure to watch.

The scenery in this film is amazing and it's worth watching for that alone. Awe-inspiring and utilised as a good backdrop to the main story, it's stunningly shot. Also, the costume ball section of the film is luscious, filled with vibrant costumes and wonderfully directed by Hitchcock.

All in all, this would have been an incredible film, if not for the atrocious dubbing and occasionally off-putting editing. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent one with Grant at his charming and debonair best.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Mary of Scotland (1936)

Mary of Scotland stars Kathryn Hepburn as the doomed monarch with Florence Eldridge as Elizabeth Tudor, Fredric March as Bothwell and a lengthy supporting cast including Douglas Walton as Darnley, Alan Mowbray as Throckmorton and Donald Crisp as Huntly. While the film seems based on the true events of Mary Stuart's life, there are problems with the film that made it difficult to watch.

It's a very stage-like production that hasn't adapted to film very well. A lot of the scenes are static with very little movement and they last for quite a while. There are relatively few Scottish accents in attendance and those that are Scottish are not always convincing. The love story between Mary and Bothwell doesn't feel very realistic, possibly as a result of the scope of the film being on politics rather than romance.The effects are over-played and unnecessary and some of the dialogue delivery is cringe-worthy. Florence Eldridge comes across as far more comfortable in her role (though she is nowhere near the standard of Elizabeth I that Bette Davis attained in her two outings, reviewed here and here). I don't think playing a queen was beyond Hepburn - I just think that a lot of issues contrived to make this film difficult to enjoy. Hepburn herself later admitted that she respected Elizabeth and not Mary, calling the latter a 'ninny'.

So those are the bad points. However, there were sparks in the film that helped elevate it a little. For instance, Douglas Walton's performance as the effeminate Darnley is excellent to watch and the meeting scene between Elizabeth and Mary adds tension to the film - perhaps too late to save it. There is also a moment where the peasants begin singing of their loyalty to their Scottish queen in a standout scene which wasn't hampered, like most, by its length.

There is nothing inherently wrong with stage-like productions but I don't think Mary of Scotland worked particularly well. Whether this was because of Hepburn's disbelief in her role, a domineering director or screenwriter or simply a few errors of judgement, it doesn't really matter. Watch for Eldridge and Walton, not for Hepburn or March.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Footlight Fever (1941)

Footlight Fever is the sequel to Curtain Call (1940, reviewed here). Alan Mowbray and Donald MacBride return as Don Avery and Geoff Crandall, theatre producers who are desperate to get their next venture off the ground. They are hampered by their backer pulling out, leaving them desperately in need of money. Their leading man's girlfriend has an aunt who is rich enough to manage it but she's under the thumb of her business manager. Don and Geoff try to persuade her to invest by posing as friends of her lost love but she's soon wise to them. Will the show go on?

I found this more enjoyable than Curtain Call, perhaps because it didn't rely on the premise of an aspiring writer being exploited and blown to pieces by everyone around her. Aunt Hattie Drake (Elisabeth Risdon, who I've previously seen and loved in Higher and Higher (1943, reviewed here)) may be a recluse but once she's out of her mansion she's hilarious and Risdon plays her to perfection.

Mowbray and MacBride's partnership isn't all that enticing, though in the scenes where they're trying to persuade Aunt Hattie that she should produce the play they're very enjoyable. I think they work better apart: for instance, when Avery decides he should be the leading man and does a very good 'will not die' routine. It's much easier to like Avery than MacBride but perhaps the problem in this partnership is that neither character is exactly likeable. They only made these two films and it's easy to see why.

That isn't to say Footlight Fever is an altogether bad film. It has moments of greatness but many moments of mediocrity and scenes/characters that serve no purpose. However, it's better than Curtain Call and doesn't quite let the tricksters get away with it.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Classic Film Review: The Big Street (1942)

The Big Street tells the story of Little Pinks (Henry Fonda), a busboy who falls in love with singer Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball). When she's injured in an argument with her boyfriend and benefactor Case Abels (Barton MacLane) he takes care of her, paying her hospital fees and having her stay with him until she's better. The trouble is, Gloria is ungrateful and mean - she has her sights set on a rich playboy Decatur Reed (William T. Orr) and she'll have Little Pinks push her in her wheelchair from New York to Florida to get her way. The supporting case includes Agnes Moorehead as Little Pinks' friend Violette and Eugene Pallette as Nicely Nicely Johnson.

Based on a Damon Runyon story, this is a reasonably good film. It manages to bring to life the gambling and hustling of New York whilst still showing the hearts of those involved - there is a splendid scene where a group is pitching in money to help Pinks get Gloria to Florida, even though they don't like her and she's treated them like dirt. In this film, Gloria is the unreasonable one, pushing and pushing Pinks until he can't take it any more.

Lucille Ball, however, is excellent in the role. There are a few over-dramatic moments, particularly during the argument with Abels, but her moments of weakness as she struggles to acknowledge her injury, make up for this. She's a difficult character to like but it is a performance you can respect. With Henry Fonda, its the other way round: he's an altogether good character, easy to like but too liable to allow himself to be walked over. His defining moments come in the final minutes, which make up for his weaknesses as a character earlier. In addition, Agnes Moorehead is brilliant throughout, becoming a sounding board for Little Pinks but also enjoying a whirlwind romance with Eugene Pallette as Nicely Nicely.

All in all, this is an interesting little film that avoids the simpering ending I anticipated. Some of the dialogue is difficult to swallow but, on the whole, this is a bit of a lost diamond.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Classic Film Review: Son of Paleface (1952)

Son of Paleface is the sequel to The Paleface (1948), which I haven't yet seen. Still, it's not compulsory to have seen the first one to thoroughly enjoy the second.

Bob Hope plays the title character, a hapless Harvard graduate who travels to the Wild West to collect his father's fortune. Unfortunately, he can't seem to find it and his father's creditors are literally breaking down the doors to get to him. Elsewhere in town, Roy Barton (Roy Rogers) and his horse Trigger have arrived to track down the culprit for a recent spate of gold thefts in the area. The criminal is none other than Mike (Jane Russell), who has set her sights on the fortune she thinks Peter Potter Junior has. Oh, and there are Indians with a grudge against him too.

This is an hilarious film. It spoofs all the main aspects of Westerns but lovingly, and it doesn't skimp on the laughs. Hope is fantastic but, for me, Russell steals every scene she's in from the bandit scenes to the seductive dance number 'Wing Ding Tonight'. She and Hope bounce off each other extremely well, especially with their little duet reprise of the same song where she's in the bath and he's trying to peek through the keyhole. However, my favourite scene is definitely the shaving scene in the derelict hotel where they sing 'Am I In Love?' together. Russell is at her most witty and gorgeous in this film, no question about it.

With all my attention on Hope and Russell, I almost disregarded Rogers and Trigger entirely, although the scene where Peter Potter Junior and Trigger fight over bed covers is quite amusing. There are too many good scenes in this one to describe but they all add up to a fabulous comedy that showcases Hope and Russell perfectly.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Classic Film Review: The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)

The Fabulous Dorseys is a rather lacklustre film intended to showcase the music and talents of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey rather than display any real artistic merit as a film. It stars the brothers as themselves, essentially resulting in an entirely sanitised film which bears little resemblance to biography. It shows the brothers as warring boys then warring adults who split and form their own bands.

I found the scenes when they were children some of the most enjoyable. Once the 'real' Dorseys arrived on screen the entertainment seemed to slip a bit. There are unrealistic fight scenes and lazy dialogue, only relieved by a love story between two of the supporting cast - Janet Blair as Jane and William Lundigan as Bob Burton. The portrayals of Mr and Mrs Dorsey by Arthur Shields and Sara Allgood also lifted the film a little.

Of course, the main point of this film was to showcase the music. It manages this with limited success, only playing fragments of songs that I, for one, would have preferred to hear in their entirety. Still, there's no denying how beautiful the music and it's worth a watch for the performance pieces alone.

There's not much more to say about this one. It works as a musical showcase but not as biography. There's no denying the Dorsey brothers' talent as musicians but they were hardly threatening Cary Grant and Clark Gable in the acting stakes.