CLASSIC FILM SCENES #9 – RIFIFI (1955) – THE SILENT HEIST
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Produced by: Henri Berard, Pierre Cabaud, Rene Bezard
Written by: August Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Bezard
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel etc.
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini
I was reminded of this classic low budget crime film recently while watching the brilliant 1980s set spy drama, The Americans. In it, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is once again undercover manipulating a source, who happens to be a film geek. There she “bumps” into said source while watching Rififi (1955).
If you haven’t seen Rififi (1955), it’s a genuinely brilliant example of the heist movie. Directed by Jules Dassin, the standout sequence in the silent heist in the middle of the film. Lasting around 30 minutes there is NO dialogue and NO music. It is pure cinema of the highest quality and absolutely absorbing. We may not vindicate the actions of these criminals, but we are dragged into the cleverness of their crime.
Shot for what was a pretty low budget of $200,000, it features a cast of mostly unknowns or actors whose career, like the characters they play, was in decline. However, due to the sublime direction, tricky plot and stylish photography, Rififi, is a great example of ideas and ingenuity outweighing budgetary constraints.
Rififiwas a critical and commercial success in France and other countries. However, it was banned too in some countries because the governments were afraid the robbery would be copied by actual criminals. Moreover, the film and the silent heist legacy live on. Brian DePalma’s film Mission Impossible (1996) clearly riffed on the set-piece with the elaborate Langley heist sequence. Interestingly, Keri Russell herself would appear in Mission Impossible III (2006); as an American agent this time.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Produced by: Cy Feuer
Screenplay by Jay Allen – Based on Cabaret by Joe Masteroff
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson
Songs: John Kander & Fred Ebb (Lyrics) – Score: Ralph Burns
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
**CONTAINS PLOT AND THEME SPOILERS**
Cabaret (1972) was that strange thing: a dark, satirical, sexual, explicit and cynical musical. I only actually watched it for the first time last year and thought it was a true classic; and I don’t usually enjoy musicals as a rule. Not only is the direction, writing, choreography and performance brilliant but from a thematic perspective it was took risks in regard to gender and sexual representations. Moreover, the historical themes are very compelling too. The film would garner many Oscars and was a critical and commercial smash, sending Liza Minnelli to super-stardom at the same time.
Set in Berlin, the narrative concerns a variety of characters that appear at, or attend the infamous Kit Kat Club. Episodic in structure the main stories focus on the loves and losses of the likes of singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), writer, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and German playoy, Baron Max Von Heune (Helmut Griem). Interspersed within the drama are the songs from the stage of the Kit Kat Club, introduced by the seedy Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Joel Grey. Furthermore, the film charts the movement from the bohemian freedom of the Weimar Republic to the threat of the looming National Socialist Party as it insidiously bleeds into the German political landscape.
This change is seen to chilling effect in the only song featured outside the club, namely, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. In this classic scene we begin innocently enough with the angelic singing of a teenage boy. As he continues to sing we cut to the crowd listening intently. Then the camera pans down and it’s revealed the boy is a member of the Hitler Youth. Suddenly, the portentous horror of the situation is all too apparent and the song becomes an unsettling reminder of grim future events. As members of the crowd join in fervently with the song, we know, we just know it’s the end of innocence for the German people and the world.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #1 – KES (1969) – THE CANE SCENE
TITLE: KES (1969) DIRECTOR: Ken Loach SCREENPLAY: Barry Hines (based on his novel) CAST: David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher, Colin Welland, Brian Glover, Lynn Perrie.
KES (1969) – THE CANE SCENE
I hated school. I hated the pupils. I hated the teachers. I hated the system. I loved learning and the academic side of things (excluding mathematics) but ultimately I despised the raging injustice of being trapped with a bunch of spotty, aggressive, pubescent, bullying and thuggish individuals who were just morons or led astray by morons. And the kids were really bad too.
Kes is one of the finest British films ever. It concerns the everyday existence of Billy Casper (David Bradley) and his attempts to survive the harsh realities of working class life in Barnsley, Yorkshire. Far from an academic creature he struggles at school but finds a certain soulful salvation when he adopts and trains a young kestrel.
Kes represents a microcosm of working class life where the kids basically have little chance or career choices in Barnsley and are either damned or sent down the pit. Thus, when Casper trains the kestrel he finds a sense of escape and tranquillity from his oppressive home and school life. When the kestrel is murdered by his brother at the end, it’s symbolic of a life where the capitalist system crushes the hopes and dreams of the working class.
There are many classic scenes throughout the film as we get much Northern and working class humour displayed amidst the desperate bleakness. One such scene is the seminal football match where the comic talents of Brian Glover are on show. His egomaniacal and brutish teacher bullies Casper and the other kids. However, I think my preferred favourite scene sums up the injustice of school perfectly.
Mr Gryce (Bob Bowes) gives a great speech to the feckless kids up on report for smoking. But there’s another smaller kid there to give the Headmaster a message. Before seeing the Headmaster the older kids hide their cigarettes on the smaller one. Guess who gets in trouble for having cigarettes?? I love the natural acting on show and the combination of humour and pathos. The director Ken Loach skilfully makes us laugh and cry in a fantastic scene from a brilliant cinema classic. Hope you enjoy it.
WRITERS: NOEL COWARD, RONALD NEAME, ANTHONY HAVELOCK-ALLEN
MAIN CAST: CELIA JOHNSON, TREVOR HOWARD, STANLEY HOLLOWAY
While I’m not a classic romantic I must admit you can’t beat a really good love story when it’s done well. The ones I enjoy the most are usually the tragic failed or unrequited romance stories which tug, unravel and then break the heart-strings. While I have a soft spot for a jolly rock ‘n’ roller such as Grease (1978), the romance films that stay with me are the likes of: Casablanca (1942), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Dr Zhivago (1965), End of the Affair (1999), Last of the Mohicans (1992) and the sterling understatement of Remains of the Day (1993). Of course, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another brilliant example of a heart-breaking doomed love affair.
I recently went to see Brief Encounter (1945) – on Valentines’ Day in fact – with my wife at the Festival Hall. It was screened in front of a live orchestra, the London Philharmonic no less, and introduced by the daughter of actress Celia Johnson. I’m not a fan of live orchestral presentations as I’m a bit basic and practical. I always think you could be at home listening to a recording via download or CD; yes I am a philistine and have no soul! However, the live accompaniment to the screening of Brief Encounter was phenomenal; enhancing the filmic experience with beautiful renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Based on Noel Coward’s one act play called Still Life, Brief Encounter really stands the test of time as a poignant narrative of romantic loss. It concerns a seemingly contented housewife, Laura Jesson, and her chance encounter with a respectable Doctor Alec Harvey. Their classic meeting on the platform where he removes grit from her eye sets in motion a touching will-they-won’t-they tryst which pulls you in throughout. The structure is sophisticated and layered with flashbacks as Laura, sitting in her comfy armchair, reminisces of her times with Alec, while her husband sits there unawares doing a crossword.
Much praise has obviously been made of David Lean’s exquisite framing and direction and the searing power of the Rachmaninoff’s music but for me the script from Coward and Celia Johnson’s sorrowful performance were also things of beauty. Her clipped and dulcet tones resonated as she delivered vignettes of secret meetings, stolen memories and pulsing regret. After all this is 1938 and middle-class women were meant to be the bedrock of the household and affairs were a massive faux pas. Plus, she loves her husband and her children; the secrets and lies were just beastly products of a wicked passion and must be repressed. Their respective sense of duty, guilt and the unfair timing of their meeting just won’t allow a happy-ever-after story. Despite it being seventy years old the film is so sad and I still felt the characters’ heartache radiate through the screen.
Much of the action takes place on shadowy platforms, moving trains and in the café room at the railway station. The rush of smoke, whistles and trains create a sense of urgency and panic to the love affair. The couple are always in a rush to be with and away from each other so as not create suspicion at home. Conversely Alec and Laura are like trains themselves passing each other in the night in transit but unable to couple up for the remaining life journey. It’s not all doom and gloom though as Coward’s script is full of wit, humour and suspense too. The secondary characters and extremely well drawn and while bordering on the stereotypical the characterisations reflect the various British types and the class system prevalent at the time.
Overall, Brief Encounter remains a classic romance and one of the best British films ever made. It tells us love has no logic or idea of timing as two innocent characters are made to be liars because of the power of their emotions. Only the goodness of their hearts, a sense of duty and what is right means they will ultimately return to their marriage partners. But the gaping vacuum created by love is something they will just have to contend with. Brief Encounter is a timeless classic and deserves to be seen on the big screen; especially when backed by the exquisite musicianship of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Six years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too-bad: www.whatculture.com
Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise. The list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988) and Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) among others. My rules were simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
So, with these criteria in mind I present a sequel to my previous article – some six years later – with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.
3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
James Mangold’s directed Western is a rare beast: it’s a remake that’s as much a classic as the original. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale perform brilliantly as the charismatic outlaw and proud farmer who clash on the way to the eponymous prison locomotive. Ben Foster, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda provide excellent support too in a fantastic character-led drama full of action.
ANOTHER YEAR (2010)
While Mike Leigh was NOMINATED for a best screenplay Oscar, this wonderful character piece is not always given the praise I think it deserves. Containing Leigh’s usual group of deftly observed human eccentrics, the story concentrates on a year in the life of middle-class couple – the Hepples. Superbly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen this lovely couple are a familial magnet to various strays including the scatty and neurotic Mary (Lesley Manville) and depressed Ken (Peter Wright). It’s an affectionate and gentle dramedy with uniformly brilliant performances from Leigh’s wonderful cast.
Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore movie is often over-looked due to the coruscating power of his debut Sexy Beast (2000) and his most recent cinematic classic Under the Skin (2013). In this haunting drama a potentially disturbed ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) informs Nicole Kidman’s New Yorker Anna he is the reincarnated soul of her deceased husband. This fantastic curveball sends Anna’s life into an emotional spin as past and present events collide in a beautifully moving drama.
Let’s be honest there’s no way career criminal Michael Peterson deserves any real attention for his anti-social and violent behaviour, however, between them Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn have created an incredible character study of a genuine nutter. It’s brave, brutal, sick, theatrical, daring, Brechtian and an occasionally hilarious profile of one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners.
BUFFALO 66 (1998)
Vincent Gallo is either a genuine nut-job or a misunderstood genius maverick. His directorial effort The Brown Bunny (2003) was panned and on the main his acting career has remained patchy at best. However, he did write, direct and star in Buffalo 66 which is an absolutely blinding dark comedy about an ex-con who “kidnaps” Christina Ricci and forces her to be his wife so he can aspire to some sense of familial normality. It’s quirky and laugh-out-loud funny with Gallo weirdness throughout.
DARK CITY (1998)
This imaginative sci-fi noir had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Matrix (1999). Yet while the Wachowski’s mind-bending-effects-heavy-actioner caught the eyes of the public, Alex Proyas’ more cerebral vision of the future kind of fell through the cracks of time and space. Rufus Sewell portrays an amnesiac that has no idea where he is before finding himself at the mercy of a group of people called The Strangers. It’s a brilliant melding of film noir and science fiction and remains a rarely seen gem from the 1990s.
GALAXY QUEST (1999)
While I enjoy the new Star Trek reboots as blockbusting if ephemeral popcorn entertainment, the best recent Trek adaptation/homage is the wonderful science-fiction comedy: Galaxy Quest. The inventive story delights with a cracking tale of former TV stars boldly propelled into space when proper aliens, Thermians – believing they are real space heroes – ask them to defeat their vicious nemesis. With a delightful ensemble cast including: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub and irrepressible Sam Rockwell, this is a wonderfully funny and clever film which shines an affectionate light on the Trek canon and geek fan base.
So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway? Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a story that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic despite the limited setting. Ivan Locke is portrayed as a confident and determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. Tom Hardy plays Locke with incredible restraint and brooding anxiety while Steven Knight’s script is crisply written and full of suspense.
I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection. The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.
TROPIC THUNDER (2008)
Films about filmmaking aren’t always the most interesting yet Ben Stiller’s riotous satire on Hollywood and its over-inflated egos is an absolute joy. Vulgar, over-the-top, stupid, childish and loud it delivers some incredible belly laughs from: the hilarious trailer parodies, to Robert Downey Juniors method acting madness and unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a ludicrously crass studio boss. The daft plot about actors getting kidnapped by a ruthless Vietnamese drug gangs provides an excellent framework for all manner of stupidity, on-the-money punchlines and explosive action.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike th’inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave. Thomas Gray, 1751
Stanley Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. That is a fact. He made films in all genres but indelibly stamped his own genius on the war, comedy, thriller, horror, satire, crime, science-fiction, historical and drama films he adapted and created for the big screen. His work contains a litany of iconic images, searing soundtracks, stupendous performances, great intelligence and provocative thought which ensures his films linger in the memory of those who have witnessed them. All hail a true cinematic master.
Paths of Glory (1957) was Kubrick’s fourth feature film and certainly his biggest budget film to date. His previous film had been a B-movie crime masterpiece called The Killing (1956), which meticulously examined the planning, progression and aftermath of a racetrack robbery. Using a documentary style and surgically precise narrative structure The Killing is indicative of Kubrick’s subsequent ability to reinvigorate a genre with his masterly eye. However, Paths of Glory was, emotionally speaking, even more powerful than The Killing.
The story is set in France, 1916, during the heated battle and burning mud of WW1 trench warfare. World War I is rightly (and then wrongly) thought of as the war to end all wars with millions of soldiers and civilians losing their lives in a coruscating damned hellish indictment against humanity. As if the incredible number of deaths between the warring factions were not enough the powers-that-be would also shoot their own men for cowardice and desertion believing this to be “good for morale” or at very least a warning to those who refuse the fight. This is the frankly insane setting for this formidable dramatic tale.
The main action concerns the court martial of four men chosen, apparently, at random to face a firing squad following a botched attack on a key enemy position called the ’Anthill’. War is a desperate prison even at the best of times but here the men are shown as broken, battered, starving, shell-shocked and on their knees spiritually even before the attack. When the suicide mission unsurprisingly flounders, ambitious and sociopathic General Mireau – portrayed with venal glee by George Macready – proclaims death to all who failed the glory of France. The seemingly more reasonable, yet equally poisonous Major General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) lowers the numbers to be shot in a chilling scene that reduces human life to no more than barbaric bulls-at-a-market bartering.
The voice of reason amidst all this insanity is Kirk Douglas’ former-lawyer Colonel Dax; who himself was part of the failed raid on the ‘Anthill’ and could testify to the impossibility of the task. Dax is the audience’s conduit to the madness of those in charge; from the: choosing of one soldier by lots; the farcical trial and even the final execution where one unconscious soldier is woken up only to be shot dead moments later. Douglas is imperious in the role demonstrating a range of emotions from incredulity, despair, anger and a powerful sense of the righteousness. The final heart-breaking scene where he gives his men a few more minutes listening to the folk song tells us Dax is a sane man in an insane world run by psychopaths. The song is delivered hauntingly by the captured German girl (the actress Christine Harlan was later to become Kubrik’s wife) to men who are destined to die in the barbed-wire brutality of war.
Kubrick’s work (Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove, Clockwork Orange to name a few) is full of damning critiques of the upper classes, high falutin politicians and war-mongering men who use the working or lower classes to do their filthy bidding. In this film they are represented by Menjou’s politically-driven Broulard who sits comfortably in his Chateau quaffing wine and scissoring quail; all the while brave men are skewered in battle. Full of tragedy, wicked satire and black humour the screenplay based on Humphrey Cobb’s novel is eighty-eight minutes of sheer cinematic perfection, power and heartwrenching injustice and emotion.
Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. Filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances notably Macready, Menjou, Douglas and the scene-stealing, druggy sop that is Timothy Carey. Overall, I have watched this classic many times when young and having seen it on the big screen at the BFI recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. Forget the insipid blockbusters of today and revisit the master of cinema where and when you can: his name is Stanley Kubrick.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER: A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION – LATEST UPDATES
If you didn’t know from reading my blog, as well as writing film articles and reviews for fun, I also write and produce short films. My short film production website can be found at: www.fixfilms.co.uk.
Our 9th and latest short film is a Star Trek fan production which contains a wholly original story; a romance full of pathos and philosophical drama. Our aim was not to copy characters and space species such as: Kirk, Picard, Spock, Riker, Romulans, the Borg, Bones and Scotty etc. but to create our own set of characters within the Universe. This is a low-budget and affectionate homage to the Star Trek universe and not an attempt to parody or take the piss basically.
Currently we are in the midst of the production and it is going really well. So, if you’re interested please check out our latest updates below. Our thanks once again to the www.kickstarter.com folks who contributed the budget for the film.
Hope you enjoy some of the latest updates:
Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.