AT THE MOVIES
(and the occasional Friday?)
Movies, films, pictures, flicks; what is in a name? The first film I can remember anything about is the ‘Red Shoes.’ My parents took me along when I was only three! The one scene that I can remember is the one where Moira Shearer (as I found out later) falls in front of an oncoming train. Not good viewing for a three year old! Thinking about it that is probably my earliest memory of anything. Other films from my early days staying with my grandma in Bradford include ‘Quo Vadis’ (1951) and ‘The Robe.’(1953) Both epics of the Roman Empire during the rise of Christianity. The Robe was the first film to be shown in glorious Cinemascope and starred Richard Burton in one of his first Hollywood roles. Both films seen at the Odeon.
My next movie memory is Saturday Morning Pictures at the Regal Cinema in Salisbury. For about six old pennies you could spend the Saturday morning watching a couple of ‘Shorts’ as they were known. A shortened Pathe newsreel, the B picture and then the A movie, usually a Western. Sometimes the western was a running serial so if you had missed the previous week then you had no idea what was going on!
The amazing thing about all this was our behaviour. Yes it was a bit noisy but there was never any trouble, As the lights came up at the end we all trooped out without any bother. Not sure who I went with but I remember using my season ticket on the bus from Old Sarum where we lived. Happy days!
So what was your first film?
We go back to the mid 1890s to find out where it all began. Thomas Edison invented the first movie camera in the hope that it would boost sales of his phonograph. He had hoped to match sound to the pictures but could not find the solution. Although the French would claim otherwise and say that in 1888 Loius le Prince recorded the first true film.
Early films were around a minute long. Still the process had begun. Celluloid film had been invented a few years earlier and the technology waited for the next inventor to come along.
D W Griffiths was one of those. By 1910 the films were longer, credits for actors started appearing, panning shots, close ups but still no sound. Movie theatres started to appear under the name ‘Nickleodeon.’ In time they of course dropped the Nickle? The movie industry had begun.
From Old Sarum my Mum and I departed Southampton on the SS Empire Orwell bound for Singapore. No films on board ship as we sailed for 31 days out to the Far East. My Dad was waiting for us to disembark and then it was an RAF coach to the railway station. The journey to Prai in northern Malaya would take 24 hours. My Dad had a sten-gun packed in his case as we would be travelling through terrorist occupied areas and they had been known to block the line while they attacked the trains. Exciting or what!? We were heading for Penang. I think we arrived in our accommodation some 35 days after we left our prefab at RAF Old Sarum. We spent about a year on the island. The Rex cinema was our favourite place, next to Batu Ferringhi beach! The Man from Laramie with James Stewart is a film I remember from that time. Saw it again recently and to be honest it was dire! Another of those westerns where all the characters look as though they have just stepped out of the shower, had their hair done while they wore their freshly laundered clothes! Davy Crockett was another one we saw. Best remembered for the song I guess. Two war films pass through my memory: ‘Strategic Air Command’another Jimmy Stewart film, but an improvement on the earlier one. The other is a film that my Dad would describe as having ‘bags of action’ a phrase my family know well! To Hell and Back’ starred Audie Murphy as himself and related the story of his war. Murphy despite his diminutive size was an exceptional soldier. In 1945 when the rest of his comrades had retreated he single-handedly held off a whole company of German soldiers until reinforcements arrived. He was wounded but survived and was awarded the Medal of Honour. Murphy won just about every medal going and was one of the most decorated soldiers of WWII.
From Penang we moved to the mainland and a very nice bungalow at RAF Butterworth. Like all large RAF stations around the world there was an Astra Cinema just a short walk from our bungalow. The beach at Butterworth was not that good but the swimming pool made up for it! To think my parents put me through this terrible childhood! The Astra held Saturday Morning pictures only this time the Pathe News was watched a little more closely as it let us know what was happening back home in the UK. Film over it was a stroll to the swimming pool, lunch, and then in the pool until the sun went down! Which was usually around 6:30. The Ten Commandments, High Society, The Dambusters, and The Searchers I can remember seeing at the Astra with my parents.
Time to head home on a three day flight! (Night stops in Karachi and Baghdad!) Such, such were the joys!
My Dad was posted to RAF Watton in Norfolk but Mum and I stayed behind in Bradford waiting for accommodation to become available. He came home for weekends. I remember one film he took me to at the Victoria Cinema, Pork Chop Hill starring Gregory Peck. A film about the war in Korea and of course ‘bags of action!’ I went with my Mum to see Anastasia at the Essoldo cinema. They don’t name them like that anymore!?
So to Norfolk, where the news that I had lived in Malaya and survived the experience was met with amazement from my new classmates. Their idea of adventure was a bus ride to Norwich!
Watton yielded another Regal cinema. Like the Essoldo mentioned earlier sadly demolished some years go.Films I remember include Bernadine starring Pat Boone. Mum and Dad were big fans and surprise, surprise Pat sang a song called Bernadine! A Night to Remember and The Vikings are two that come to mind. On a trip back to Bradford I returned to the Essoldo with my Aunty May to see Ice Cold in Alex. Certainly a better class of war film.
Autumn 1958 saw us heading back to Yorkshire and an umpteenth change of school! We lived in Acomb and my Dad was stationed at Rufforth just up the road. To digress slightly. Rufforth was where I saw my first motor race. The British Racing and Sports Car Club used the perimeter track of the old airfield as a racing circuit. My first view of a D- Type Jag and an Aston Martin neck and neck approaching a bend. Magic! Meanwhile back at the Regent in Acomb. My Dad was on detachment in Aden so Mum and I went along to the Regent Cinema to see Frankie Vaughan in The Heart of a Man. Mum was a fan!
Time to head to the Far East once more! This time it only took twenty-four hours, stopping for fuel at Istanbul and Bombay. My Dad had been posted to Seletar in Singapore so it was just a coach ride to a hostel and then to our bungalow the next day. RAF Seletar was the largest RAF station in the world. It had a nine hole golf course, a floodlit football pitch, an Olympic size swimming pool and best of all, TWO yes TWO Astra cinemas! Sink the Bismarck, Reach for the Sky, Some Like it Hot, Rio Bravo were all seen at either the East Camp Astra or the West Camp Astra. Downtown at the brand new all-happening Lux cinema there was, Ben Hur, North to Alaska, Psycho, Elmer Gantry, The Apartment, Spartacus and many, many more!
So those are my early memories. Going to the cinema was something of a habit in the fifties and sixties. Not so much now as the prices of admission seem to go up every other week! Gone are the days of the one and nines and a fish and four on the way home! And of course films are not just shown at a cinema anymore. Still the collective experience of watching a good film in the company of a hundred or more people is one to be enjoyed?
Time to head for the lists and put my films on the table!
So let us take a peek through each genre and see what I think and you can then shout at the screen or nod in agreement? Do we have a deal?
Comedy may seem a funny place to start but at least we begin with a groan!
In ascending order then here are my top five comedy films:
5.Good Morning Vietnam – Robin Williams (Sometimes classified as a war film but I put in the comedy section!)
4.The Italian Job – Michael Caine
3.The Producers – Zero Mostel
2.Some Like It Hot – Marilyn Monroe
1.My Favourite Year – Peter O’Toole
There are so many funny films out there but I think ‘My Favourite Year’ has to be top of my list. ‘Some Like it Hot’ runs it close but My Favourite Year features a tour-de-force performance by Peter O’Toole. The film is set in the year 1954 and O’Toole plays the part of Alan Swann. Television is still in its infancy and Alan Swann a famous actor is in town to be interviewed. He is a notorious drunk and the shows producer does not want him interviewed. He is persuaded to go ahead by a young up and coming comedy writer on the understanding that he will babysit Swann. Cue chaos! Mel Brooks was executive producer and of course was also responsible for ‘The Producers.’
The film contains one of my favourite lines: Swann enters the Ladies Toilet by mistake:
Attendant: ‘This is for ladies!’
Swann: (Sound of zip being undone) ‘ So is this ma’am but every now and then I have to run a little water through it!’
And of course ‘Some Like it Hot ‘ contains one of the best last lines in film history. Jack Lemmon still dressed as a woman informs his enamoured would-be lover that he is a man.
Would-be lover replies: ‘Nobody’s Perfect!’
In ascending order my top five war films:
5. Das Boot – Jurgen Prochnow
4. Paths of Glory – Kirk Douglas
3. The Bridge at Remagen – George Segal
2. Catch -22 – Alan Arkin
1.Saving Private Ryan – Tom Hanks
‘Saving Private Ryan’ contains an outstanding performance by Tom Hanks. For its first twenty minutes alone it would be the best war film. In content it is beaten only by the TV series ‘Band of Brothers.’ In both productions Steven Spielberg cannot resist an anti-British dig but I will forgive him given the outstanding nature of both productions. Catch-22 could easily be in the list of best comedies but it is an anti-war film. To adapt such a complex novel took some doing and I have to say it is one of the best adaptations of any novel in the history of cinema. It is not better than the book but it certainly matches it. The portrayal of utter lunacy and total disintegration of human relations is brilliantly portrayed. In Alan Arkin they found the right actor to portray John Yossarian. My favourite line of all time comes from Yossarian in Catch-22:
‘I am going to live forever or die in the attempt!’
In ascending order my top five western films:
5.The Magnificent Seven – Yul Brinner
4.The Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood
3.Rio Bravo – John Wayne
2.High Noon – Gary Cooper
1.The Searchers – John Wayne
‘The Searchers’ has been my favourite western for some time. This, despite it being another ‘clean’ western. For once the plot overrides such concerns. The tale of a young girl captured by Indians was not fanciful and occurred more often than you would think out there in the Wild West! John Wayne leads the search party across a good few years to find his niece and bring her home. The final shot of the film through the doorway of the ranch house out into a sunlit Monument Valley is one of the most evocative in cinema history.
During the film Ethan (John Wayne) is asked if he wants to quit. He replies, ‘That’ll be the day.’ Deep in the heart of Texas one Charles Hardin Holley watched the film. On hearing the above quote he says to himself, ‘ I can do something with that.’ And the rest as they say is in the charts!
In ascending order my top five drama films:
4.Godfather Part II
3.The Third Man
Difficult to classify some films. Citizen Kane is a dramatic film and so is The Shawshank Redemption but is the latter a crime film? Likewise the Godfather. Still and all it seems a reasonable place to park them.
Orson Welles did just about everything on Citizen Kane. He wrote, directed, produced, edited, acted and probably did everything else bar make the coffee! It is a tale of overweening ambition, Shakespearean in its concept. Welles is brilliant in the production ably assisted by Joseph Cotton. And of course there is the famous ending as we finally discover the meaning of why the character Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, utters the word, ‘Rosebud.’
Welles gives another tour-de-force performance in ‘The Third Man.’ For once all Welles did was act. Carol Reed directed a screenplay written by Graham Greene. The camera work was so good it won a Oscar for cinematography. The film music played by Anton Karas on the zither was infectious and is instantly recognisable.
Undoubtedly one of the great figures of movie history I find it sad that Orson Welles ended his career advertising alcohol. I guess he spent his film life chasing money so having it come easy was a no brainer?
And a word for ‘Casablanca.’ A very thin plot, dodgy scenery, but brilliant over the top performances by all concerned. And so many quotes:
‘What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.
The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
...I was misinformed.’
‘Round up the usual suspects!’
.and of course the most famous mis-quote, ‘Play it again Sam!’
..and one quote that has a special place in my heart, ‘We will always have Paris.’
In ascending order my top five musical films:
5.The King and I
4.My Fair Lady
South Pacific contains the best playlist of any musical. The songs are some of the best ever written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This Nearly Was Mine is as close to perfection as any writer of a musical could get. You have probably gathered that I don’t rate any musical post 1970! I have seen ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ three times and think it is brilliant. Likewise ‘Mamma Mia’ which I have seen twice. But they are Rock and Roll shows not musicals in the true sense of the word. Ditto ‘The Jersey Boys.’ Camelot has a special place in my memory. Nina and I saw the stage show when we were in London for our honeymoon. Cabaret contains a brilliant performance by Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. Musicals are best seen on the stage and with Cabaret the stage intensifies the claustrophobia of the Kit Kat club and underwrites the serious aspect of the musical. And it is great to see ‘Money’ performed live.
In ascending order my top five Adventure/Epic films
5.Master and Commander
4.The Name of the Rose
3.The African Queen
1.Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia introduced Peter O’Toole to the greater viewing public. Much debate as to whether it is David Lean’s best film. I think so. It is filmed on an epic scale and Omar Sharif was another new face who gave a masterful performance. The film had a stellar cast that included Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins and Jose Ferrer.
The opening scene, which starts with a shimmering dot on the far horizon is one of the best in movie history. Maurice Jarre, always Lean’s go-to composer ,provided a stirring sound track. The recent Directors Cut restores missing scenes and gives credit to one of the original screenwriters Michael Wilson. Omar Sharif would take the starring role in another Lean epic, Doctor Zhivago, some years later. The snow-laden Russian steppes provide a shimmering background for certain scenes in this film. Once again Maurice Jarre was the composer of the film score. Lara’s Theme being its most memorable tune. The film gave international stardom to Tom Courtney in the role of Pasha Antipov.
The African Queen is the best film two-hander you will ever see. Bogart and Hepburn light up the screen and it is a film I can watch time and again. Master and Commander stars Russell Crowe and I think it is his best film. The Name of the Rose stars a very different Sean Connery and young Christian Bale. The producer and the author of the book did not want Connery originally. Umberto Eco left the project in dismay and Columbia Pictures withdrew their funding. Jean-Jaques Annaud eventually invited Connery for a reading. He stopped him at the third page when he realised he was perfect for the role. And indeed he was. Far and away his best film.
There are other genres but horror films have never taken my money. I have seen the occasional Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones films in the company of family and friends but they are just passing entertainment. The latest fad for Iron Man, Spider Man, Superman, Batman and every other man leave me unmoved.
And so shuffling the cans of film and assessing my options here is a list of my ten favourite films.
In ascending order:
10.Some Like it Hot
9.Paths of Glory
7.The Third Man
6.Saving Private Ryan
5.My Favourite Year
2.Lawrence of Arabia
Favourite – Citizen Kane
Orson Welles as the young Charles Foster Kane
Your list may bear no resemblance whatsoever to mine! Feel free to add your favourite films in the comments section?
I have mentioned most of the films above bar a couple. Paths of Glory is a WWI story of the French Army. Kirk Douglas at his dimpled best plays an officer tasked with defending four soldiers who have been charged with cowardice having refused to be part of a suicidal attack on a German position. It was based on a true story and needless to say was not welcomed in France. Released in 1957 French citizens finally saw the film in 1975.
And there you have it. Feel free to comment it would be good to hear your views. Thanks for reading.
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