Island in the Sun (1957)

RIP, Harry Belafonte.

I have an admission to make: Harry Belafonte was the first singer I ever crushed on.

When I was a child, my parents had a large collection of LPs, and among the many singers we heard on those, the ones who stood out for me were Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Jim Reeves—and Harry Belafonte. I still remember a Belafonte album (Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean) we had, which was one of my favourites. This one was also present among the LPs at my maternal grandparents’ home in Kolkata, which we visited sometimes for Christmas. My mother’s father had worked for the Indian music giant HMV, so their home had a massive collection of LPs, with Belafonte front and centre. We didn’t just listen to his carols and hymns at Christmas; we listened to every song he’d made popular, from the soulful Jamaica Farewell (one of the first English language songs I learnt to sing) to hilarious ones like Matilda, Man Smart Woman Smarter, and the classic There’s a Hole in the Bucket (which, by the way, is also a favourite with my daughter: she and I sing it together and always end up having a good laugh).

I loved his voice. I thought the photo of him, smiling and so handsome, on the LP cover, showed that he didn’t just have the most fantastic voice, he was also easily the best-looking of all the singers.

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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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Genghis Khan (1965)

Considering the last film I reviewed—about Genghis Khan’s grandson, Halaku (Hulegu Khan)—it seemed to me about time that I watched this one. What strengthened my resolve was that I happened to watch the Julie Andrews-Omar Sharif starrer The Tamarind Seed last week, and I was reminded that Omar Sharif starred as Genghis Khan here. ‘And Omar Sharif as Genghis Khan’, as the credits read. [An uncanny coincidence there, with—as in Halaku—the lead actor’s name appearing at the end of the credited cast].

Omar Sharif in and as Genghis Khan Continue reading

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

Like Robert Mitchum, Stewart Granger is one of those actors who just needs to be in a film for me to want to see it. When the film in question boasts of Deborah Kerr opposite Granger, lots of swordplay and palace intrigue, a magnificently villainous villain, and some very fancy costumes: my day is made. And, best of all: not one Granger, but two: he’s in a double role here (well, one of the characters is hardly there, but still). Yippee!

Stewart Granger in The Prisoner of Zenda

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The Desert Rats (1953)

I’m not a fan of mindless violence and blood and gore, but I’ve always adored old war movies. Whether it’s a fast-paced Alistair MacLean type thriller (read Where Eagles Dare, one of my all-time favourites) or a reliving of a real event, I love the atmosphere: the Schmeissers and the Vickers, the invariably atrocious German accents, the partisan natives, the courage and inherent good-ness of the good guys, which always triumphs over their own other weaknesses. Clichéd, I know, but watchable, too—as in this case.

The defence of Tobruk

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