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Dracula (1931)

The first English language film of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, this 1931 version was produced by Universal Pictures, and was significant for setting both the studio and its star Bela Lugosi onto long running horror careers.

Dracula begins with the arrival of Renfield (Dwight Frye) in Transylvania. He is presumably a solicitor or an estate agent, and has travelled from England to help Count Dracula in his move to London.

Renfield is dropped off by the stagecoach at an inn, where he explains he is on his way to Castle Dracula. Even mention of the name of the feared Count Dracula sets the locals off crossing themselves and widening their eyes in fear. Surely you don't want to go there! They are undead, vampires, they drink the blood of their victims.

Well, Renfield isn't one to be put off by that kind of superstitious nonsense. So he heads to the castle anyway, where he finds the charming but strangely mesmerising Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) surrounded by his cobwebs and can…
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Squadron 992 (1940)

Squadron 992 is a British propaganda film from 1940, and it's all about the Royal Air Force. So buckle up everyone, because it's going to be wall-to-wall aerial action, with Brylcreemed chaps leaping into their Spitfires and Hurricanes to do battle in the air with Jerry. Or maybe not. Because it turns out that Squadron 992 doesn't fly Spitfires or Hurricanes but looks after ... barrage balloons. Oh well.

Barrage balloons were huge blimps tethered to the ground by a suitably sturdy cable. They were introduced as a defensive measure for use against aerial bombing, designed to force enemy bombers to fly higher and so make them less effective. The huge balloons became a familiar sight during the war, floating above towns, cities and other possible targets for air raids.

The day-to-day operations of barrage balloons is a tough subject to make exciting, but Squadron 992 does its best anyway. The film actually starts out amusingly enough, and there's even some wit in the scri…

Who Dares Wins (1982)

On 5th May 1980, the six day siege at the Iranian Embassy in London was ended when special forces soldiers of the SAS stormed the embassy building, released the hostages, killed 5 terrorists and captured the sixth. The terrorists had already killed one hostage, and were threatening to slaughter the rest at half-hour intervals, when the go ahead was given for the rescue mission, codenamed Operation Nimrod.

Not only was the operation a stunning success but, crucially, it took place under the gaze of the world's news media. Television news crews were camped outside the embassy awaiting the latest developments, with their cameras trained on the building. The rescue mission was captured on camera and streamed on live television around the world, causing a media sensation.

The Special Air Service (SAS) was one of several British special forces units formed in the desert campaign in North Africa during WWII. Unusually, it was also one that had survived into the Cold War era, being refor…

2019: The Year in Review

As it's almost the beginning of a new year and a new decade, I thought I'd do a round-up of what's been happening at Cinema Essentials over the past 12 months.

Cinema Essentials is 2 (and a bit) years old

It's hard to believe, but this website is now more than 2 years old. Fortunately, it's now past the crawling and dribbling stage (well, mostly) and is managing to totter along without too much adult supervision.

Cinema Essentials actually celebrated its 2nd birthday back in July. But I decided not to make a big thing of it, as I wasn't sure if I wanted the inevitable street parties and rounds of media interviews. Actually, I didn't think anyone would really care, which is sad I know, but probably true.

This is me, dictating this post to my secretary.  And yes, it's amazing how much I look like James Mason.


I signed up for the Large Association of Movie Blogs in October this year. It takes time for membership to go through, but assuming it…

8 of the Best Christmas Films

It's Christmas, the time of year when we get together with loved ones we've been neglecting all year, eat and drink too much, give people presents they don't really want, and have to endure the office Christmas party.

One of the most familiar elements of a modern Christmas is slumping in an armchair and watching some schmaltzy Christmas garbage on the TV. But hey, I want to spare you that fate, because here are eight Christmas films that are actually good.

Alien (1979)

In its genre, Alien has rarely, if ever, been bettered. It's a very simple story of a terrifying monster let loose in a confined space, killing off the crew of a space ship one by one. Its greatness lies in its superb handling and in its extraordinary art direction.

The film begins with the mining ship Nostromo returning to Earth with a cargo of 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore. The ship is still a long way from home when its computer picks up a distress signal from a nearby planet. The ship's crew are automatically awakened from suspended animation and directed to the planet to investigate.

The ship has a crew of seven. There is the businesslike captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), curious and incautious Kane (John Hurt), nervy Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), suspicious science officer Ash (Ian Holm), tough but brittle Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and two grumbling mechanics from below decks, Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton).

Dallas, Kane and Lambert investigate the …

Top 10 Film and TV Spies

There was a time when TV and cinema screens were mostly devoid of spy heroes. You might get the ordinary, innocent person caught up in a spy plot by accident, especially in Alfred Hitchcock's films, like The 39 Steps(1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938) and North by Northwest (1959). You might also see some wartime era spy work in the likes of O. S. S. (1946), or true life stories of undercover agents in Nazi-occupied Europe, as in Odette (1950) and Carve Her Name with Pride (1958).

But the spy as action-adventure hero didn't really take off on screen until the 1960s, a decade that saw the big and small screens flooded with fictional spies. Although spy mania reached its peak in this era, aided by the prominence of real life spies in the Cold War, secret agents have never completely gone out of fashion. In fact, with series like the Jason Bourne films, Mission Impossible and Kingsman, they're probably more popular now than they were in the previous couple of decades.

Here then…