Ten English-language films for lovers of Hindi cinema

Specifically, Hindi cinema of the 50s and 60s.

This post had its genesis in a post sometime back, in which blog reader and fellow blogger Rahul commented that he tended to not watch foreign films. I decided, then, to create a list of ten foreign films that might appeal to a lover of old Hindi cinema. Then, a couple of weeks down the line, when I reviewed The Woman in Question, Rahul reminded me of that promise, asking me when I’d be posting that list of English films. There had obviously been a misunderstanding somewhere; I had meant non-English films. But it gave me an idea; why not a list of English-language films too?

After all, it’s not as if the plots and themes of Hollywood and British cinema from the Golden Years were completely alien to Indian audiences. In fact, many of them would be familiar to watchers of Hindi films: a lot of films, all the way from Chori-Chori to Kati Patang, from Yahudi to Ek Ruka Hua Faislaa, from Half Ticket to Gumnaam, are based on Hollywood films, some of them to such an extent that they are not merely adaptations but outright copies. Add to that the fact that the Hays Code, which governed Hollywood between 1922 and 1945, had fairly Puritan ideas about what was permissible and what was not, and you have cinema that was relatively ‘clean’, at least as far as what was shown onscreen. You could safely watch these without fearing that you’d suddenly stumble upon nudity, profanity, or extreme violence.

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Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

A couple of months back, I was invited to an interesting series of sessions focusing on building creativity. This was part of a venture by an organization where I once worked, and the creativity-building exercises take unconventional routes to help employees think out of the box: by watching films and analyzing them, for instance. One of the sessions I attended was presented by a team which used the theme of ‘multiple narratives’ to examine four films. The classic Kurosawa film Rashomon was (of course) on the list; so was the excellent South Korean film, Memories of Murder. The other two films—which I hadn’t seen, though I’d heard of them—were Talwar and Anatomy of a Murder.

The description and brief discussion of Anatomy of a Murder that followed got me interested, and I made a mental note to get the DVD. Then, a week or so back, friend and ex-fellow blogger Harvey recommended the film to me, too, so I decided it was high time I watched it. And what a film it turned out to be.

A scene from Anatomy of a Murder

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Rawhide (1951)

The other day, a blog reader, Dr Pradeep Prahlad, commented on one of my reviews of a Tyrone Power film, Witness for the Prosecution. It reminded me that a few years back, I went through a longish spell of complete and utter Power fandom.  I watched, over the space of a few months, just about every Tyrone Power film I could lay my hands on. Some were good, some were forgettable. Some I reviewed. Some I thought I’d review—and then forgot about them.

So here is one film that I liked, but ended up not having the time to review back then. I rewatched Rawhide a couple of weeks back, saw flaws in it I hadn’t noticed the first time round, and decided it merited a review. Even if only to keep the Power love alive, and even if only to draw attention to a Western that generally tends to get overlooked.

Tyrone Power as Tom Owens in Rawhide

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Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

christmas-clip-art-free-downloads-174203I am a creature of habit. And a lot of habits of mine kick in around Christmastime every year. One is the daily posting, on Facebook, of a favourite Christmas carol. Another is this: the reviewing of a film that centres round Christmas. Over the years this blog has been in existence (I began it in November 2008), I’ve reviewed several films, some well-known, others not. This one, according to several polls, is listed as one of the very top Christmas films ever made.

It begins at Thanksgiving in New York City. The huge department store, Macy’s, at 34th Street, is holding its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the employee in charge of managing much of the parade is Mrs Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara). Doris is very harassed, what with the large number of people she has to juggle and instruct; thus, when she discovers that her Santa Claus has been drinking and is now tipsy, she nearly loses it.

Doris receives a shock

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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