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Showing posts from August, 2017

Kidnapped (1960)

Partly due to rising costs on its animated films, Walt Disney branched out into making live action features in the 1950s, beginning with Treasure Island (1950). In common with several other American companies, Disney had blocked funds in the UK that couldn't be repatriated to the US, and making films in Britain was a useful way of using this money. For this reason, several of the 1950s Disney films have a decidedly British accent, including The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, Rob Roy the Highland Rogue, Greyfriars Bobby and Kidnapped.

Like Treasure Island, Kidnapped is based on a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. The story is set in the years following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. After the death of his father, young David Balfour (James MacArthur) arrives with a letter of introduction to his supposedly well-to-do uncle (John Laurie). But the uncle's claim to the ancestral home is a bit shaky, so he would rather be rid of David who, unbeknown to him, has the better …

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

The historical drama focusing on British kings and queens was a popular genre in the 1960s, beginning with Becket (1964), and including A Man for All Seasons (1966) and The Lion in Winter (1968). One of the figures most associated with these films was Hal B Wallis, the producer of Becket, Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Mary, Queen of Scots. Like other films in this genre, Mary, Queen of Scots focuses on the inter-relationship between two famous figures in British history, in this case Mary of Scotland and Elizabeth I of England.

Mary (Vanessa Redgrave) became Queen of Scotland in 1542, at just six days old. She was betrothed to the French King Francis II at a young age and when he dies she is left a widow at just 17. She returns from France to her home country of Scotland, but finds it very different from the world she is used to. Scotland is a smaller, poorer country which is unhappily split between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Expecting the red carpet treatment on arrival o…

Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken is based on the life story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was an American athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics, became a bomb aimer in the USAAF in WWII, survived being shot down over the Pacific, and spent 47 days adrift in a dinghy on the open sea before eventually being captured by the Japanese.

The film moves back and forwards in time, opening with a bombing raid in the Pacific, where the plane of Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) is attacked by Japanese fighters, before having to make an emergency landing. The film then shows Zamperini's childhood in flashback where, as the son of Italian immigrants, he is bullied by the other local boys and becomes a trouble-making tearaway. Eventually, with the encouragement of his brother, he reluctantly takes up running after discovering he has a talent for it, with his being taunted as a “dumb dago” spurring him on to succeed on the running track. Zamperini goes on to compete in the 5,000 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In …

The 39 Steps (1935)

For me, The 39 Steps is the quintessential Hitchcock film. Other films may have weightier themes or a more complex subtext, but The 39 Steps boils the Hitchcock thriller down to its essential elements – a shocking murder, an innocent man on the run, a beautiful blonde and a MacGuffin so irrelevant that few people can remember what it was all about.

The film is based on John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, but the translation to film is so loose I think “inspired by” would probably be the more accurate description. In fact, the film strays so far from the novel that the writers had to create a new explanation for the title, having forgotten to include the actual steps that feature in the book.

The hero of Buchan's novel is Richard Hannay. On a visit to London from South Africa, he finds himself mixed up in a spy plot when one of his neighbours, a freelance American agent called Scudder, is murdered by enemy spies. He had stumbled onto a sinister plot and has crucial…

The Liquidator (1965)

“The name's Oakes. Boysie Oakes.”

It doesn't really work, does it? But in the mid 1960s everyone was trying to cash in on the James Bond craze. Rival spy series included Matt Helm, Harry Palmer, Bulldog Drummond and Derek Flint. MGM's hopes for a Bond rival were pinned on Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator.

Taylor's character is an ex-army sergeant who is inducted into the British secret service by spy master Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard). Mostyn has been tasked by his boss (Wilfrid Hyde-White) to recruit an agent to carry out unofficial assassinations off the books. Mostyn recalls an incident in wartime Paris, shown in a black and white flashback sequence, when he was rescued by Oakes from two would-be assassins. Unbeknown to him, Oakes's heroics were mostly accidental. Oakes goes along with the plan, smitten as he is with the money he's paid, the E-Type Jaguar he's given, the swanky '60s bachelor pad apartment and the endless parade of bea…