Archive for the '1950s' Category

07
Aug
10

Network DVD Sale

I’m a bit late with this news about the Network DVD sale as it’s been running for the last 24 hours or so, but the good news is that it’s on until midnight tomorrow, Sunday 8 August, so there’s still time to nab a bargain.

As a (slightly obsessive) TV fan who mourns the loss of quality drama from UK screens, bar the odd Life on Mars or Being Human every few years, Network’s dedication to archive telly is to be applauded. This new sale finally brings a number of box sets and single volume series down to an affordable price for those who might want to dip their toe in classic (or is that “old”?) television.

The real highlights in the sale for me are the two Callan sets, a series I discovered earlier this year and which I’ve been trying to spread the word about for the last few months. I’ve reviewed both The Monochrome Years and The Colour Years so won’t go into detail here, but the black and white Callans are really a must for any spy fans with even a passing interest in the genre: with dark, gritty and multilayered scripts, Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter are perfect foils for each other, while Anthony Valentine threatens to steal any scene he’s in.

Sticking with adventure and intrigue, the recently released 4 Just Men from ITC is the template for many of the genre series which would see them through the 1960s and 70s and which have now fallen out of favour in the UK. Strangers is an often overlooked police series starring Don Henderson as George Bulman, a copper relocated from London to the mean streets of the north of England who has some odd peculiarities. Later seasons would see Taggart’s Mark McManus join the cast. Continue reading ‘Network DVD Sale’

06
Aug
10

DVD Review: The 4 Just Men

The 4 Just Men

★★★★

Four men who fought together during war time band together to fight injustice on a weekly basis in this latest release from Network, and no, it’s not another repackaged A-Team DVD set: it’s The 4 Just Men, which first aired on UK TV in 1959.

Jack Hawkins, Dan Dailey, Richard Conte and Vittorio De Sica are the Just Men of the title, each with their own unique place in society: Dawkins is London MP Ben Manfred; Dailey is Paris-based US reporter Tom Collier; Conte is lawyer Jeff Ryder and De Sica is Italian hotelier Ricco Poccari.

Introduced in the pilot episode, in which their ex-commanding officer gathers them together to recall their first encounter and send them on their mission as the 4 Just Men, each episode features a different adventure for one of the heroes. Rather than have them in a group every week, we see them take off on their own, only interacting by telephone if things get really tough, though occasionally two actors are allowed to meet.

With episodes only running at 25 minutes each, there’s little time for padding or exposition, and we’re off and running in no time. The problem of this format is clear in the first handful of stories, with a couple almost identical in their plots, and it takes a short while for the writers to get the pacing right. Thankfully, with a whopping 39 episodes on this set, there’s a chance to see things develop, and if you don’t like one story just hand around and another will be along in a little while. Continue reading ‘DVD Review: The 4 Just Men’

12
Jan
08

James Garner: Legend of the West

James Garner. That’s the answer I always give when asked who my favourite actor is. Recently I had to try and justify this to someone who seemed to have some pretty major Garner prejudice.

James Garner as Jim Rockford

James Garner as Jim Rockford

Although I like my films and telly, I do try to steer discussion onto other topics when meeting new people, at least for a while. On this occasion I mentioned James Garner, only to be told I was wrong.

While trying not to appear too bothered with this slur, I felt I had to defend his honour in his absence. I like to think I did alright, even after a few Jack Daniels and cokes, but it left me thinking more needs to be done to raise the profile of America’s finest.

So I’ve dug out an article I put together last year for a film course I took (written just after watching The Americanization of Emily) and, before that, here’s what I said about Jimbo back in this blog’s first post:

The blog is dedicated to Mr James Garner: Bret Maverick in Maverick, The Scrounger in The Great Escape and LAs finest, Jim Rockford PI in The Rockford Files.

His work and style epitomise everything I like in my entertainment. Heroes that aren’t black or white, but black and grey. Characters that would rather talk their way out of a situation than fight (who would have the guts to fight someone with a gun in real life? A Garner character would rather leg it). Humour that is understated rather than puerile or OTT. And a bit of realism in amongst the nonsense makes for good entertainment.

And now the article…

James Garner: Legend of the West

For the lowly television actor, the road to movie stardom is one littered with casualties. For every Bruce Willis there’s a David Caruso, for every George Clooney a Matt Le Blanc.

TV audiences will happily sit down each week to watch their favourite show/actor/actress, so why should they pay money to go to the cinema to see them in their latest artistic endeavour? For James Garner, the road has been something of a hazardous one.

In 1956, Hollywood screenwriter Roy Huggins was working on an episode of anthology series Conflict. Huggins was in the stages of planning a new TV series, a Western different to the then-current glut of cowboy series. But he lacked a leading man.

While casting for Conflict, Huggins saw a new young actor in action, one James Scott Bumgarner. As Huggins remembers, “I really had stumbled on something wonderful, the rarest thing there is in Hollywood: an actor with an unerring instinct for a funny line.” That actor would soon change his name to James Garner.

Birth of a Maverick

Born in Norman, Oklahoma on 7 April, 1928, Bumgarner had served in the Army in the Korean War. Injured and awarded the Purple Heart, he ended up in Los Angeles, taking supporting roles in a host of TV shows and commercials. At 6’1”, dark haired and with a knowing glint in his eye, he was prime leading-man material.

Support your Local SheriffCollaboration between Huggins and Garner led to the creation of the both the role and the character type that would define the actor’s career: Bret Maverick, reluctant hero and gentle grafter.

Maverick brought something new to the Western genre: humour. The series divided its episodes between Garner’s character and his brother Bart, played by Jack Kelly. It soon became clear that Garner’s episodes were the more popular with audiences, his easy-going charm and laconic delivery of lines making him a primetime star. Then the movie people came calling.

During summer filming breaks, Garner started to make his mark as a leading man. Roles in Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960) were diverse enough to show Garner’s action-hero and romantic lead credentials, while the 1960s saw Garner’s film career take off.

He was soon being offered scripts for a series of high profile pictures, including The Children’s Hour (1961), a complete tonal shift from most of his other work, The Thrill of it All (1963), second-billing to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Support your Local Sheriff (1969).

At home on the Range

Most of these films allowed Garner to hone the characterisation of the relaxed, combat-shy Everyman, who’s idea of living an easy life is interrupted by events around him. While Robert De Niro may eschew the virtues of method acting, the ability to sustain a note perfect, reliable and audience-friendly character through each of his movies meant that Garner was seen as a safe pair of hands.

If the 1960s were a golden period in Garner’s film career, the 1970s brought new demands. Ironically, it was one of Garner’s friends and TV contemporaries, Clint Eastwood, who would help define the era in such films as A Fistful of Dollars (1954) and Dirty Harry (1971). Garner tried gamely to respond to this with A Man Called Sledge in 1970, a spaghetti western in which he played against type.

His own production company helped him develop more personal films, such as Skin Game (1971). It was as a cowboy that Garner had made his mark, and a cowboy it seemed he would remain. He returned to TV briefly in semi-western Nicholls (1971-1972), which bombed with viewers and critics, before making some little-remembered movies that didn’t appear to tax him.

Saviour came in 1974 from an old collaborator, in the shape of Maverick’s Roy Huggins who, had decided to do for the detective series what Maverick had done for Westerns. The Rockford Files brought something new to the genre of private eyes, and was to all intents an updating of Garner’s previous persona for a new generation. This return to the small screen would revive his career once again.

Moving on

Maverick (1994)Garner was once quoted as saying, “When I left Rockford in 1980 I decided I want to do films that have interesting characters, people with human emotions and feelings and I’ve been very fortunate to do that.” This seems to sum up much of his film career post-Rockford.

Cinema beckoned again with films such as Victor Victoria (1982) and Murphy’s Romance (1985), for which he was Oscar-nominated. He would go on to produce some of his most interesting performances in a number of acclaimed TV movies for which he was Emmy nominated, such as My Name is Bill W (1989) and Barbarians at the Gate (1993).

An appearance in the movie version of Maverick (1993) could be seen as something of a closure for the Maverick character, a dovetailing of his TV and film careers.

While it’s fair to say that Garner never had the cinematic draw of Clint Eastwood, his failure to break into the Hollywood A-list often attributed to his ‘safe’ persona that lacked the edge offered by contemporaries such as Steve McQueen, his presence has always been a sign of quality.

More recent appearances in films such as Space Cowboys (2001), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and The Notebook (2004) have cemented his position as a respectable, dependable actor from old-Hollywood. His return to primetime television in family comedy Eight Simple Rules in 2004 showed that the small screen wouldn’t let him go and that perhaps that’s just the way he likes it.

To finish off, here’s a decent little interview with Jim on the Charlie Rose show from 2002:

21
Nov
07

Zatoichi meets Monkey!

ZatoichiI finally managed to see Kitano ‘Beat’ Takeshi’s masterpiece, Zatoichi, tonight. After missing it at the cinema, nearly buying the DVD a while back and forgetting to tape it off the TV a few times, I managed to record it the other night off Channel Four.

Well worth the wait.

Zatoichi (Takeshi) is a blind swordsman and masseur, who roams feudal Japan helping the helpless. It’s a violent, witty and tragic tale of revenge, directed beautifully by its star.

The music is noticeable but not intrusive, adding to the tension of scenes rather than guiding them or demanding emotion. I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese martial arts films but this surely ranks as one of the better ones.

The last time I watched anything similar was a few years ago at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, when they held an Akira Kurosawa season. I’d read that 1958′s Hidden Fortress was a heavy influence on 1977′s Star Wars and had to see it for myself.

MonkeyOne last thought on martial arts films and TV… I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else in their 30s brought up on the weekly adventures of Monkey back in the early 80s, but I still hold that up as something of a benchmark for these sort of things.

Monkey had some superb scripts that had both comedy and a touch of (occasionally heavy-handed) morality. Granted, UK audiences only got a roughly translated version, but even these managed to tug at the heartstrings once in a while, usually just after Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka had liberated another village from demons during a bonkers, high-octane, dodgy effects-laden fight scene.

The fact that it’s stuck in my memory for 25 years suggests it must have done something right.

Anyone for ‘Zatoichi meets Monkey’?

And here’s the fantastic end title music…

14
Jul
07

The Summer Of British Film

Summer of British FilmGood old BBC2. Just when Summer telly is looking dire, with endless episodes of B*g B*****r (I can’t bear to say, let alone write about a certain ‘reality’ TV show), along comes The Summer of British Film to restore the faith.

Following an interview with BBC2 Controller Roly Keating on the latest Observer Film Weekly podcast, where he was very enthusiastic about the season, I’m really looking forward to this.

Every week, starting on Saturday 28 July, there’ll be a new documentary in the British Film Forever series covering 100 years of British film. Episodes are split into genres:

  • Thriller
  • Romance
  • Social Realism
  • Costume Drama
  • Horror
  • War
  • Comedy

Best of all, to accompany the documentaries, BBC2 will also be screening around 60 films from the last 100 years.

I’m now off to finally invest in a DVD Recorder to make the most out the season.

14
May
07

Children’s TV on Trial

Following tonight’s episode of Smiley’s People (an oasis in the desert of dross on offer, though how I avoided ITV1′s Teen Boob Jobs: Too Much Too Young I don’t know) there was a lovely little trail for an upcoming week of programming from BBC4, Children’s TV on Trial.

As it says on the website:

“…a nightly look at each decade of the genre from the 50s to the present day – today’s youngsters will be delivering their verdict on the shows their parents or grandparents used to watch. There’ll be programmes about Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Jackanory and Saturday morning TV, and other highlights include When the Stranglers Met Roland Rat, an eye-popping look at some of the incongruously adult pop stars who have strutted their stuff on shows supposedly made for children.”

Sounds like a great week for vintage telly then. Unless ITV come up with something original that is…




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