Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is a small-time Boston gangster with a problem. The problem is that he’s facing three to five years in New Hampshire for driving a truck filled with stolen goods and he can’t face the prospect of going inside again. The only way out is to turn informer. If he does that then maybe he can cut a deal and escape prison. Cop Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) hasn’t exactly promised him that but he has promised to do what he can. But only if Eddie can give him some really worthwhile information. The trick for Eddie is to give Foley enough to get a deal without getting himself killed by the people on whom he’s informing.
Eddie’s main line of work at the moment is buying the guns that are getting used in a series of bank robberies.
Eddie isn’t the only one acting as an informer. This is an incredibly bleak and cynical look at the world of crime. Everybody will sell everybody else out if they have to. There’s no honour among thieves here. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re careful so you don’t pay the price of informing. That’s Eddie’s challenge. He doesn’t want to go to prison but he doesn’t want to get killed either.
There’s an overwhelming sense of futility in this film. These criminals really are losers. They’re not big-time gangsters. They’re not making enough money to live in mansions. They’re not living glamorous lives. Their lives are seedy and squalid. The guy selling the guns makes a deal to sell some machine-gins, which carries a mandatory life sentence if you get caught. And he’s getting two thousand dollars for the guns. He’s maybe making $1,500 profit. Not much money for which to risk a life sentence.
The job that Eddie did in New Hampshire that caused all his present woes was similarly futile. Eddie’s in his fifties, he knows he’s too old to do any more time, but he got mixed up in a job that just didn’t offer a big enough payoff to make it worthwhile. He didn’t make enough money to spend the rest of his life sitting on a beach in Rio. With the money he’s making from crime Eddie is just barely keeping his head above water financially.
All of these criminals seem to know that eventually they’re going to get caught, and they seem to just accept that. You wonder why they bother. They just seem to be too dumb to figure it out. They just accept their fates.
Mitchum gives a superb but very understated performance completely at odds with his tough guy persona. Eddie Coyle is an incredibly passive character. He just drifts along from minor disaster to minor disaster and seems resigned to being a failure.
Peter Boyle is excellent as Eddie’s friend Dillon. Dillon runs a bar and he’s a small-time crook and an informer as well. Eddie doesn’t know Dillon is an informer and Dillon doesn’t know that Eddie is an informer. Richard Jordan as Foley and Steven Keats as Jackie Brown are also impressive.
The Eureka Masters of Cinema offers the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD. The extras include a very sharp appreciation of the film by critic Glenn Kenny, a lengthy interview with Peter Yates and a 44-page booklet that includes an essay on the film.
Most successful neo-noirs deliberately avoid going for classic noir visuals because the noir visual style is just about impossible to achieve in colour. This film (along with Farewell, My Lovely) demonstrates that it can be done. The Friends of Eddie Coyle might just be the greatest of all neo-noirs.
Very highly recommended.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde) is a writer. In other words he’s unemployed and unemployable. Or at least he was until the day he walked into the Labour Exchange and, to his amazement and horror, they offered him a job. As a junior executive in a glass-making firm. But actually he’s being offered a very different kind of job. As a spy. You see one of MI6’s top agents (a fellow with the codename 007) has unfortunately passed way and a replacement is needed. Whistler of course has no qualifications for a job as a secret agent except for one thing - he speaks Czech and MI6 desperately needs someone who speaks Czech for a mission to Prague.
Actually he’s not quite intended to step into 007’s shoes. The job is very routine. Just a courier job really.
Whistler is a nice chap but rather naïve - he genuinely has no idea he is acting as a spy. Being a writer he has no experience of the real world so he figures that maybe the world of international business really is rather secretive. He does suspect that he may be involved in industrial espionage.
The Czech government has assigned him a driver to take him around Prague. Vlasta Simoneva (Sylva Koscina) is young and pretty so that part of his assignment is quite pleasant.
Whistler of course is a total washout as a spy and finds himself on the run. He may not be a good spy but he is a survivor and he manages to keep one step ahead of the secret police. But if he’s ever going to see England again he’s going to have to reach the British Embassy and that will be more of a challenge. Much depends on whether he can trust Vlasta. They’ve fallen in love (naturally) but she doesn’t want to betray her country and he doesn’t want to betray his.
While this movie was obviously cashing in on the Bond movie craze it isn’t really a Bond spoof. It’s more a spoof of the older style of spy thriller. There are no gadgets and no spectacular action sequences. The comedy 9and this movie is definitely intended as a comedy) is mostly sly and witty and gently satirical rather than outrageous. But it is funny.
We never do find out what was in the secret document that Whistler was supposed to bring back and that’s part of the point of the movie. It simply doesn’t matter. It’s just a game.
Rather surprisingly Dirk Bogarde made quite a few spy movies, including the very underrated and hard-to-find Sebastian in 1968 and the notorious Modesty Blaise in 1966. Bogarde was superb at this kind of light comedy. He plays Nicholas Whistler as a naïve but basically thoroughly decent sort of chap, a self-confessed coward but very likeable.
Sylva Koscina was one of the classic eurobabes of the 60s and she’s charming.
The byplay between Robert Morley and Leo McKern as the opposing spymasters is a major highlight - two wonderful actors having a great time with their rôles.
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Derek Fowlds (from Yes, Minister), Eric Pohlmann and Richard Vernon.
Along with Carry On Spying (released in the same year) this is one of the better spy comedies of its era.
Network’s DVD release offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The only extras are some image galleries.
Hot Enough for June is fine entertainment. It might be low-key but it’s consistently amusing. Highly recommended.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
The movie is set in 1898 with the Cuban revolution against the Spanish providing the historical background. Cash Adams (Ladd) is a former US Army officer who was dishonourably discharged. He now makes his living as a gun runner. He’s being paid to deliver a consignment of guns to Tampa where Cuban revolutionaries will be waiting with $100,000 for him.
The job is much more complicated than he expected. Firstly he and his men are attacked by hijackers before they even reach Tampa and then he discovers that the deal has been changed - he has to deliver the guns all the way to Cuba. The Cubans do agree to double his price which is some consolation.
I don’t claim to know much about nautical matters but I have to say that the riverboat really doesn’t look like it would last five minutes in the open sea.
The second complication is that the riverboat will be taking a second consignment of guns, along with rival gun runner Clay Pike (Lloyd Nolan) and his cohorts. Cash and Pike have hated each other for years so neither man is happy with this development.
There’s yet another complication - they have to deliver a Cuban revolutionary to Cuba as well. The revolutionary is the young and beautiful Doña Isabella (Rossana Podestà).
As you might expect Cash Adams and Pike clash numerous times during the voyage, culminating in a couple of all-in fist-fights. Their clashes have something to do with their pasts but also quite a bit to do with the fact that they both take a shine to Doña Isabella.
And new obstacles just keep on appearing. The gun runners start to wonder just how much they’re going to have to go through to get their money, and whether they’ll live to collect it.
Lloyd Nolan is of course marvellous as the thoroughly amoral Pike. Rossana Podestà may have been a bit miscast here but she’s OK. Chill Wills is fun as the riverboat captain who seems to have spent the whole of an adventurous life on the losing side. I liked Paul Fix as Cash’s old army buddy Trasker.
Gordon Douglas directed. Douglas had a varied career which included some pretty interesting movies including a couple of very good private eye thrillers with Frank Sinatra (Tony Rome and The Lady in Cement), the spy spoof In Like Flint and the sci-fi classic Them! Martin Rackin wrote the screenplay (his other credits include the underrated noirish crime thriller A Dangerous Profession).
What’s interesting is that rather than idealists fighting for a good cause what we have here are bad men fighting (rather reluctantly) for a good cause.
The Warner Archive presentation is extremely good with a fine anamorphic transfer.
Santiago isn’t that bad. It doesn’t quite catch fire the way it should but it looks great. It’s worth seeing if you’re an Alan Ladd or a Lloyd Nolan fan. It’s not one of the adventure classics but it’s reasonable entertainment.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is a brilliant young scientist with a special interest in textiles. He works in a textile mill. Well, he doesn’t exactly work there, he’s just bluffed his way into getting access to the mill’s laboratory. Everyone just assumes he’s one of the scientists working in the laboratory.
Now he’s made an amazing discovery. He has invented a new artificial fabric with some interesting properties. It never wears out and it never gets dirty. It actively repels dirt. Sidney believes it will revolutionise the textile industry and he’s convinced the owner of the mill, Mr Birnley (Cecil Parker) of that as well.
It doesn’t take long for Birnley’s competitors, and the trade unions, to figure out just exactly how devastating Sidney’s invention will be. They decide that he must be stopped. They try to buy him off but it doesn’t work.
But somehow Sidney Stratton must be stopped.
There’s a great supporting cast - Cecil Parker as Birnley, Michael Gough as rival mill owner Michael Corland, Howard Marion-Crawford as another mill owner and Vida Hope as good-natured union activist Bertha. Joan Greenwood plays Birnley’s daughter who is in love with Corland but plays an important part in launching Sidney’s ill-fated career.
The Ladykillers. He then went to Hollywood where he directed Sweet Smell of Success. It’s now recognised as a truly great movie and one of the most impressive late entries in the American film noir cycle but at the time it bombed at the box office and pretty much ruined Mackendrick’s career. Mackendrick seemed to like making comedies with a bit of bite to them. This film confronts some important issues - progress is a good thing but it can come at a terrible price, sometimes the status quo really should be maintained, innocence can be more dangerous than cynicism, good intentions can lead to disaster. But The Man in the White Suit never falls into the trap of becoming preachy or didactic - it remains sparkling light-hearted fun.
This is a real science fiction film and it deals with some of the enduring themes of the genre - scientific progress as a two-edged sword, the dangers of worshipping science.
This is clever intelligent satirical filmmaking and it’s consistently funny. At times the comedy has an edge to it but it’s much too good-natured to be considered a black comedy. We can’t help liking Sidney but sometimes we just want to slap some sense into him.
Everything in The Man in the White Suit just works. Highly recommended.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
John Cleeve (Alan MacNaughtan) is a middle-aged man with a past but he doesn’t know what that past is. He has no memories at all, apart from the fact that he murdered his business partner. Cleeve was found wandering in Nairobi. He is now in the care of pretty young nurse Jane Winston (Jane Griffiths) who is convinced that she can help him to recover his memories.
Apart from his amnesia John Cleeve is also unable to walk, although the doctors can’t explain why this should be so.
The odd thing is that not only has the body of the business partner he killed never been found, the police are not even entirely convinced that such a man ever existed.
Official records of Cleeve himself are rather sparse. He seems to have dropped completely out of sight for a long period. He does however have a criminal record for fraud. Private detectives have been hired to find out whether the business partner existed but have only been able to come up with one man who might fit the bill. Unfortunately, while Derreck Alwyn was in Africa at the right time he was not in the right part of Africa.
Having nursed him for so long Jane Winston has grown rather attached to Cleeve. She can’t really believe he could ever have done anything really wrong. She also refuses to entertain the possibility that he might be faking his amnesia, or that he might have some dishonourable motive for doing so. He seems like such a nice man. Jane isn’t a fool but she’s a nice girl who likes to think the best about people.
Of course there is a mystery here and it’s going to get complicated. And dangerous.
Lionel Harris did quite a bit of work in television but this seems to be his one and only feature film directing credit. There’s nothing particularly wrong about the job he does here.
The cast doesn’t include any well-known names but they’re all the kinds of solid reliable performers who were in plentiful supply in Britain at the time.
The plot is decent enough although most of it becomes pretty clear by about the halfway stage. Somehow this one doesn’t quite have the tension or the intricate twists of the better movies in this series. There’s just something missing.
This is reasonably enjoyable undemanding fare. Even that these Network boxed sets are such outstanding value for money (seven movies plus a bonus movie and in this case the bonus movie The Man in the Back Seat is quite superb) one can’t really complain too much if one or two, such as The Double, are lesser efforts. And The Double is still worth a look if you’re buying the boxed set anyway.