Looking for some more movies to add to your annual tradition? How about checking out some of the following which will be a salve to all the traditional Christmas fare you’ve suffered through?
THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960)
I’ve long been a fan of this hidden gem, which boasts a plot that plays like a finely tooled machine, with great dialogue by a similarly underrated Bryan Forbes, some superb acting – Richard Attenborough, Jack Hawkins and in particular Nigel Patrick.
To my mind puts The Italian Job, which bookends the other end of the decade (and a million years away culturally) in the shade.
Very cynical and extremely funny. I hope no-one tries to remake it, but…it could be, as it’s surprisingly relevant – such as the crew passing themselves off as IRA (the leader Colonel Hyde explains that the one nationality to whom the British will never give the benefit of the doubt is the Irish) to raid an army weapons depot. In the light of a Brexit-driven Irish Sea border, where Unionists may be the patsies in a remake.
Raffish army types most cashiered for various reasons (one is blackmailed for homosexuality) pull off a daring bank raid. They all room at their leader Colonel Hyde (Hawkins)’s house:
LOG writer James Boland wrote two sequel novels, which unfortunately aren’t in the same league. It’s too lazy to say it’s pre-Tarantino/Guy Ritchie, but there are resemblances. The only thing that slightly spoils it is they get pinched in the end, a convention followed in most heist (Lavender Hill Mob etc) movies til the 70s. And famed hellraiser Oliver Reed in an atypical role (see clip)
Some dialogue and clips below:
Lexy: [asked if he’s hoping for a dirty weekend with his girlfriend] I’m hoping for a dirty year. If I live that long.
NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (1967)
Agatha Christie meets Valkyrie meets Jack the Ripper, director Anatole Litvak’s overlooked WWII murder mystery is something of a curate’s egg, but one well worth exploring.
Egyptian then-superstar Omar Sharif improbably plays a German Abwher officer investigating the brutal murders of prostitutes by a senior Wehrmacht general, identified by witnesses only from a fleeting glance of the killer’s striped senior officer trousers.
A virtual who’s who of 60s British talent includes Peter O’Toole as the unhinged SS General Tanz who is deeply disturbed by a Van Gogh painting, Tom Courtenay as the hero/victim Corporal Hartmann, Charles Gray playing against type as the womanizing von Seidlitz-Gabler and many others.
Christopher Plummer, Nigel Stock, Donald Pleasance, Joanna Pettet, John Gregson, Philippe Noiret, Harry Andrews and Coral Browne all also manage to make an impression.
The rather arch script was said to have uncredited contributions by Gore Vidal, which certainly makes sense when you read some of the movies better lines:
Major Grau (Sharif): Then let us say what is admirable on the large scale is monstrous on the small. Since we must give medals to mass murderers, why not give justice to the small… entrepreneur. General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray): [to Morand] I’ve always felt that even in war, gentlemen, though they may be on opposing sides, still have much in common. It was everyone’s misfortune that Hitler was not a gentleman.
ALTERED STATES (1980)
Ken Russell’s Altered States is another movie that deserves an airing – with its theme of sensory deprivation being used recently in the likes of A Cure for Wellness, Stranger Things, Fringe, The Jacket and to a lesser degree Get Out’s ‘Sunken Place’. It tells the story of a respected scientist and psychology professor Edward Jessup (William Hurt) who decides to combine his experiments in sensory deprivation tanks with powerful hallucinogenic drugs, convinced that it may help him unlock different states of consciousness.
Altered States’ still-impressive hallucinatory visuals have seeped through to the present, especially in series such as American Gods and the films of Tarsem Singh, also Trainspotting, Jacob’s Ladder, Naked Lunch, Mulholland Drive and Requiem for a Dream.
The story of the making of the movie is also fascinating with writer Paddy Chayefsky (Network) having the power to insist that every word of his script is retained in Altered States, leading to the booting of original director Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde, Night Moves) and his replacement by an unlikely candidate – Ken Russell (The Devils, Tommy etc).
Russell handled Chayefsky’s stipulations by having the cast rush through the dialogue when he thought it was dragging the action down. Chayefsky took his name off the picture anyway. Chayefsky features as a character (played by Norbert Leo Butz – Trust, Bloodline) in the recent FX series Fosse/Verdon.