More Than a Miracle (1967)

The first Omar Sharif film I remember watching was Mackenna’s Gold. As the bandit John Colorado, Sharif made a very young me (I was a child) feel that, my goodness, how could someone be so cruel and nasty and not at all nice? Then, a couple of years later, I saw The Night of the Generals and refused to believe that the upright Major Grau could be played by the same man who played the evil Colorado.

In the many years since my teens, I have seen many more of Omar Sharif’s films. I’ve seen him play everyone from a Mongol warrior (Genghis Khan) to a Russian doctor (Dr Zhivago), an Armenian king (The Fall of the Roman Empire), a German officer (The Night of the Generals), an Arab tribal leader (Lawrence of Arabia)… and a Spanish prince.

Omar Sharif as Prince Rodrigo in More Than a Miracle

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The Day of the Triffids (1962)

I watch a lot of contemporary science fiction movies. Everything from Interstellar to Oblivion is grist to my mill (not to mention monster movies). The other day, happening to see a list of ‘best alien invasion movies’ on IMDB, I glanced through it quickly to see which ones I’d seen. Most of the newish (post 1980s, and Alien) ones, I realized, but none of the old ones. And there were so many of them, all those old films I’d heard about but never got around to watching.

Shameful, I decided, considering I am such a devotee of old cinema. So, a sci fi flick. And one which I decided to watch after first having read the book on which it’s based.

Very loosely adapted from John Wyndham’s novel of the same name, The Day of the Triffids begins with a rather boringly delivered (but thankfully brief) voiceover about carnivorous plants. The Venus flytrap is mentioned, and we’re told about another carnivorous species of plant known as the triffid (which looks rather like a mutated tulip, as far as flowers are concerned, and has a stem reminiscent of a palm tree). After that, we move further into the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, where this particular specimen of triffid is housed in a glasshouse.

The triffid, we are told, was brought to Earth on the Day of the Triffids. [Which, once we launch into the story, begs the question: then what is it doing in the Royal Botanic Gardens, before the ‘day of the triffids’?]

A triffid at the Royal Botanic Gardens

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The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

History fascinates me. Not the dates, not so much the politics (though that can be often very interesting, too), but society, culture. How people lived, and how—if you really think about it—mankind hasn’t, fundamentally, changed too much over the past few millennia.

Look at The Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance: a tale of a dying emperor, realizing that his own son—the heir to the throne—is too debauched, too fond of gladiators and wine, to ever be able to fulfill the dying man’s dream of a united Roman Empire. What ensues—as a seeming upstart is nominated successor, as jealousy and hatred arise where there had been camaraderie and boisterous affection—could be true of anything happening today.

Christopher Plummer as Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire

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Somewhere in the Night (1946)

What if you woke up one day to find that you couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, and—even worse, perhaps—had no idea who you were? And that when you set out to find out, you opened up a can of worms? That every other person you met seemed to be wanting to beat you or kill you (or ended up dead)—and you had absolutely no idea why?

Some years back, watching Hitchcock’s excellent Lifeboat, I was fascinated by John Hodiak. It was the first time I’d seen this actor, and I wanted to see more of him. After some searching, I discovered this intriguing example of film noir which starred Hodiak as the amnesiac who sets out to discover his identity—and ends up with some even more baffling answers.

John Hodiak in Somewhere in the Night Continue reading

Sunday in New York (1963)

This is a somewhat belated tribute, to yet another star of the silver screen. Aussie actor Rod Taylor (January 11, 1930 – January 7, 2015) arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, and though he never achieved the fame of fellow countrymen like Errol Flynn (and, much later, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, etc), he did star in several big films, including Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Time Machine, Young Cassidy, 36 Hours (and, his last outing, Inglourious Basterds, in which he played Winston Churchill).

Rod Taylor as Mike Mitchell in Sunday in New York Continue reading

3 Godfathers (1948)

There are two traditions I’ve maintained on this blog ever since I began blogging. One is to celebrate my birthday with a pertinent post (coming up in two weeks’ time). The other is to, for Christmas, review a Christmas-themed film (of which there are examples aplenty). For once, though, the Christmas film I’ve chosen is one with a difference. It’s a Western, and – while it doesn’t have any actual blood and gore shown – there is death here. It’s not a sugary film, and even though the first half has its share of humour, the final impression is one of a bittersweet story of a world that isn’t quite black and white.

Three godfathers Continue reading

Dynamite (1929)

This post is a consequence of the last film review I did: that of the 1966 Dharmendra-Rajshree starrer, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai. A ‘marriage of convenience’ theme about an heiress who must marry in a hurry in order to inherit the wealth due to her—and chooses a man on death row as her husband, so that she can legally get her money, but is conveniently widowed. Only to find that things don’t quite work out the way she’d expected.

The connection with Dynamite, made nearly 40 years earlier, by the legendary Cecil B DeMille? This film, DeMille’s first full-length sound feature, has several similarities to Mohabbat Zindagi Hai: the rich female lead; the clause in a dead relative’s will requiring her to marry in order to inherit; the down-to-earth coal miner who is accused (and convicted) of murder and is chosen by the heiress as a temporary husband so that she can get her money…

Charles Bickford and Kay Johnson in Dynamite Continue reading

The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

Looking through the blog posts I’ve published over the past few months, I realized what a long time it’s been since I reviewed one of those Hollywood classics, the type of film that people tend to recognize the name of, even if they’ve never seen it, or even if the film didn’t win any awards. Or wasn’t, eventually, as in this case, all that great after all. But I wanted to watch The Last Time I Saw Paris for two reasons: one, it stars Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most mesmerizing faces in 50s’ Hollywood.

Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris Continue reading

Flower Drum Song (1961)

A very belated tribute to an actor I’ve actually seen only in a couple of films, but whom I like a lot: James Shigeta. The Hawaiian-born Shigeta passed away on July 28 this year, and it came to me as a shock a couple of days ago when I discovered that he was gone—and that no newspaper and none of the sites I occasionally visit—mentioned it. The news, however, made me remember the first film in which I saw James Shigeta: Flower Drum Song, one of his earliest films. Very different from his debut film (the superb The Crimson Kimono, one of my favourite noirs), but enjoyable in its own way—and an interesting commentary, both deliberate and unwitting, on immigrants in the US.

James Shigeta and Miyoshi Umeki in Flower Drum Song Continue reading

Lilies of the Field (1963)

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

-Matthew 6: 28-29, King James Version

I am very familiar with this passage from the Bible (part of the Sermon on the Mount, this passage is part of one of my favourites—a beautiful little piece of scripture on how futile it is to worry), but when I first heard of the name of this film, the relevance of its title didn’t strike me. When I started watching it, I realized: yes, the lilies of the field are impermanent, evanescent, depending on no-one and yet not even doing anything very visible to keep themselves alive. But they—like all the flowers of this world, especially the wild ones, with no-one to care for them—are amongst the most beautiful of God’s creations.

Not an exact parallel with the protagonists of this heart-warming and sweet little tale, but close. And with some subtly-put messages about being content with one’s lot, yet pushing on, working hard.

Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skala in Lilies of the Field Continue reading