Film7070 Week 1: 1955 & 1965

What, you may be asking yourself, is Film7070? It started off as a challenge Dan Auty (aka MondoDan) set himself for 2011 – watch 70 films, one from each year from 1940 to 2009. There are a few rules – you can’t have seen the films before, you have to watch at least one film from every continent (with the exception of Antarctica), you can’t go back to a year until you’ve completed all seventy…you get the idea.

Word spread on Twitter and others took up the challenge – eatsleepjordan, gilesedwards, MrWengWeng, KYUSS123, emilybwebb, moviedan to name just a few. Some set up their own additional rules – doing the films in chronological order in eatsleepjordan and moviedan’s case.

Always up for a movie watching challenge I jumped in too, like most of the Film7070 crew I saw it as an opportunity to fill in some gaps in my cinematic education, watch some neglected classics that have been sitting on a shelf gathering dust and, at least in my case, spread my horizons a little further afield than my regular viewing, for example I’ve got some Czechoslovakian SF lined up for 1963. Which brings us to this post. Rather than just watch the films and tweet about them after I decided I wanted to write a little more, not a full review but more than the 140 characters Twitter allows, so this is the first of my weekly Film7070 journals where I’ll express my feelings about the films I’ve watched that week.

1955: Kiss Me Deadly

The first film I plucked from where it sat, unloved, on my shelf was Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly.

I don’t know what I expected from Kiss Me Deadly. My vision of Mickey Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer was coloured by Stacy Keach on TV and by Armand Assante in I, the Jury (one of my guilty pleasures). Ralph Meeker is something else again.

Meeker’s Hammer isn’t afraid of a little violence, in fact I think it’s fair to say he positively enjoys it. The film features a couple of fight scenes between Hammer and hired goons Jack Lambert and Jack Elam but it’s his encounter with little Percy Helton that stuck in my mind. Helton’s morgue attendant makes the mistake of trying to extort money from Hammer but soon learns the error of his ways when he gets his fingers trapped in a desk drawer. What struck me about the scene wasn’t the level of violence, you don’t really see anything, it was the look of pleasure on Hammer’s face as he tortures the diminutive doctor. It just serves to reinforce the notion that, while Hammer is the film’s lead character, he’s no hero.

Robert Aldrich isn’t a new director to me, I’ve seen a fair few of his films. He’s a director that can’t be pigeonholed, he directed the action classic The Dirty Dozen but could also turn his hand to disturbing psychological thrillers like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. So the fact that Kiss Me Deadly was so well crafted came as little surprise. What did surprise me was how influential the film feels. Surely this must be a favourite film of David Lynch, there’s a sense of almost Lynchian weirdness to much of the film and characters, Percy Helton’s previously mentioned morgue attendant for one and Gaby Rodgers waif-like but deadly femme fatale for another.

But it’s not just Lynch’s imagination that must have been fired by Aldrich’s hardboiled classic. The films glowing ‘great whats-it’ was surely the spark that ignited the radiant car-boot/case/ark in…well you dont need me to tell that you I’m sure. It’s that sense of filmmakers feeding off each other that was one of the things I was hoping to discover with Film7070 and for that aspect alone Kiss Me Deadly would have been a great first film but it’s also a first rate thriller in its own right.

1965: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Like Aldrich, Martin Ritt wasn’t a name unfamiliar to me, his work with Paul Newman on Hud and Hombre being particular favourites. He seemed an odd choice to helm an adaptation of a John le Carrè cold war thriller though, as I associated him with hot American deserts not drab English and German streets.

How wrong I was! He captures the gritty realism of the spy game just as well as the arid landscapes of the West. Shooting in black and white was a master stroke, everything seems so much more oppressive.

I used to think of Harry Palmer as the antithesis of James Bond, but Richard Burton’s Alec Leamas makes Palmer seem positively whimsical by comparison. Burton’s performance as the broken down, alcoholic spy sent on one last mission behind the Iron Curtain is the heart of the film. That grim black and white cinematography is how Burton’s character views the world, drab and pointless. Only his relationship with an idealistic young woman gives him any respite from the dirty, backstabbing world of espionage and yet he’d rather face death on the job than suffer the slow death of a desk job.

The film isn’t without it’s flaws – a final act that feels rushed, a wayward accent from Sam Wanamaker – but Burton makes it worth seeing. There are also excellent, if a little too brief, turns from Cyril Cusack as spymaster Control and Michael Hordern and Robert Hardy as communist spys.

Like Kiss Me Deadly, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold feels influential, but this time that influence has been felt more on the small screen, from the obvious Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People (both adapted from le Carrè novels and featuring the character George Smiley who makes an appearance in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) as well as Callan in the sixties and The Sandbagers in the seventies and even Spooks now.

So that’s Film7070 week one done and two years, and two very enjoyable films down, sixty-eight to go!

For more on Film7070 check out

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that promised top ten, that’ll be coming very soon.


Watching the Detectives: Ryoko Shinohara is Natsumi Yukihira in Unfair – The Movie

This spin off film from a Japanese TV series suffers on two counts, firstly it’s trying to be Die Hard in a hospital but hasn’t got nearly enough action to keep the audiences attention, and secondly it relies too heavily on viewers having seen the original series, something most western audiences won’t have done as the DVD release lacked English subtitles (makes you wonder why they bothered putting them on this really).

Picking up (I’m guessing) where the series left off, we find police officer Natsumi Yukihira visiting here daughter in hospital. It seems the kid was a victim of a car bombing, with Yukihira the intended target. It’s not long before the hospital is taken over by a mask wearing band of villains, who not only kidnap the a high ranking police official who’s receiving treatment at the hospital but also get there hands on some Anthrax that’s stored there. Why is Anthrax stored in a hospital? Simply because the plot requires it. Likewise there is only enough vaccine to cure one person because Yukihira’s daughter becomes infected and to much vaccine wouldn’t be dramatic enough. So it’s Yukihira Vs a gang of heavily armed terrorists, which may sound exciting (if derivative) but really isn’t. Yukihira isn’t much of an action hero, she only takes out a couple of the bad guys, with the bulk of the action (and there isn’t much) falling to fellow officer Yuji Kokubo.

The film never manages to make you feel there’s any real danger; you know Yukihira will save her daughter and that the terrorists will be stopped from releasing the Anthrax. There’s much character interplay that needs prior knowledge of the characters to understand, so maybe if you’re acquainted with the series this would be a better film but I doubt it. None of the cast are particularly memorable (the kid, Mion Mukaichi, gives the best performance) the direction lacks any flair and the soundtrack features a Japanese pop song that’s guaranteed to make you heave.


I Spy: The Constant Gardener

In the modern world big business has as much to hide as governments, and Fernando Meirelles’ film of spy story supremo John le Carré’s novel is an espionage story where the villains are no longer foreign nations but rather money hungry corporations. At its heart though The Constant Gardener isn’t a spy movie at all, it’s a love story with a political message.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz have great onscreen chemistry, which helps the film no end as there’s little time to build up their relationship, one minute they’re having sex after Fiennes delivers a dull lecture the next they’re off to Africa as man and wife. Fiennes’ dull diplomat and Weisz’s left wing activist seem an unlikely couple but the actors make it work and without that bond the film would fall flat, as Fiennes’ love is what propels the story forward as he searches for the truth behind his wife’s death (that’s not a huge spoiler, we learn early on the she’s dead with their relationship shown in flashback).

As Fiennes digs deeper he not only discovers a web of political and industrial corruption but also his wife’s ideals, something he’d never really understood before. The film interlinks this love story with an exploration of the current way of life of the African people and then dresses them both up in the garb of a thriller – clandestine meetings, fake identities, and even a car chase come into play but this isn’t a thriller that plays by the rules, there’s no action packed climax, with the final confrontation between Fiennes and his wife’s killers takes place off screen.

Fernando Meirelles really impressed me with City of God and his direction here is even more assured than in his breakthrough film. The film has a documentary feel to it that adds to the realism, there’s a lot of hand held camera work but it’s more than that, the crowd scenes don’t have the rehearsed feel you usually get in movies, instead it’s like the actors have been dropped into the real world with those around them oblivious to the fact they’re in a film, and that adds to the authenticity of their performances.

South and Central America has produced some intelligent and adventurous directors of late and Fernando Meirelles ranks at the top of that list. Here he turns what could have been just a standard thriller into so much more. He gets terrific performances from Fiennes and Weisz as well as good supporting turns from Bill Nighy as a corrupt politician and particularly Gerard McSorley as Sir Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Curtiss, the foul mouthed industrialist who’s company is at the heart of the scandal.


Comic Tales: Death Note – The Last Name

This sequel to the original Death Note picks up directly where the first film left off, no real surprise as the films were made at the same time, and has the same strengths and weaknesses as that film. The plot gets ever more intricate, as do the machinations of Light Yagami when he tries to keep the fact that he’s the vigilante Kira a secret.

As with the first film, it’s the plot’s twists and turns that keep you hooked, with the Gods of Death lacking substance as both CGI creations and as characters. They merely serve as catalysts to pit Light and “L” against each other. This time a couple of different characters get their hands on the Death Note book (or books, as there is a second one featured this time) but as they are both manipulated by Light we don’t really get to see how someone with a lesser sense of “justice” would handle it.

The final resolution is well handled, you’re never quite sure if Light will get away with his scheme or if “L”, who always seems to know, or at least suspect, more than he lets on will come out on top.

There is plenty of the mythology of the Death Note and the Gods of Death still to be explored, with one follow up already having been made. L: Change the World focuses on the enigmatic sleuth with a sugar habit and, with Hideo Nakata, of Ring and Dark Water fame, taking over the director’s chair it could well top both the original and this and should almost certainly be more visually inventive as well. I’m looking forward to seeing Ken’ichi Matsuyama again, his portrayal of “L” is the best thing about the Death Note films and he’s someone I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.


Watching the Detectives: William Powell and Myrna Loy are Nick and Nora Charles in Shadow of the Thin Man

This is my favourite of the series so far, with William Powell as Nick Charles not only having to get to the bottom of the usual murder mystery but also deal with the demands of fatherhood. The opening few minutes set the tone for the film, with the laughs coming thick and fast as Nick and Nick Jr. go for a walk in the park before the elder Charles mystically hears the siren song of a cocktail shaker in his wife’s hands, the mystical element arising because she’s way out of earshot in their penthouse apartment.

This time it’s a crooked betting racket that Nick and Nora uncover but it really is incidental, what’s important is the repartee between the characters, particularly that of the pickled detective and his spouse. There’s a timeless quality to the humour that makes it as fresh and funny today as it was in the forties.

But the real star of the show is of course is Asta the dog, having started the series uncredited he’s now got his name in larger type than his two legged co-stars.


Literally Speaking: The ODESSA File

Frederick Forsyth’s onscreen blurb at the start of the film tells the viewer that the film (of his novel) is based on real events but how closely the film mirrors the facts isn’t really important, it could be complete fiction and it would still be gripping thriller.

When freelance journalist Peter Miller is given the diary of a recently deceased survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, he, somewhat out of character, becomes obsessed with tracking down the camp’s commanding officer, Eduard Roschmann. Why the mercenary Miller is so affected by the journal is kept secret until the films climactic confrontation with Roschmann, but along the way he becomes involved with Israeli Intelligence, goes undercover to infiltrate ODESSA (the organisation formed by former SS officers) and has to contend with an ODESSA assassin and Derek Jacobi’s German accent.

That probably makes the film sound more action packed than it is, as it’s really quite a talky thriller; there are no car chases, no shootouts, and no explosions. It builds tension from the situation, when Miller is grilled by one of the ODESSA leaders we know his life hangs in the balance and all it will take is one mistake to give him away. Even when Miller is beaten after attending a rally of war veterans it takes place off screen.

Future Doctor Who companion, Mary Tamm, plays Miller’s exotic dancer girlfriend and adds a bit of glamour to the dreary Berlin locations while Derek Jacobi plays an ODESSA forger who’s also a bit of a mummy’s boy but it’s Jon Voight’s film, at least until that final confrontation.

As Miller, Voight not only does a decent German accent but also convinces as an obsessed journalist, even if the viewer isn’t privy to the reason for his obsession. He makes Miller’s jeopardy real and without that the film wouldn’t work, certainly not as a thriller at any rate. When he finally gets to confront Maximilian Schell as Roschmann, the scene plays out almost like the final act in a play, just two actors in a room throwing words at each other and it works all the better for that almost stagey feel. Schell puts a human face on evil, with Roschmann, only previously seen in flashback, now a balding, overweight old man clinging to a past when, as he puts it, “We ruled the world”.

Ronald Neame’s direction is pretty faceless, the film lacking a true visual style. A more gifted director would have been able to make a little more of the story and the Berlin locations but Neame does a serviceable job and does get good performances out of his actors.

One credit that did surprise me, which I didn’t remember noticing the first time I watched the film many years ago, was that of West End maestro and current lord of Saturday teatime TV, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wasn’t aware Webber has actually scored any films, and he hasn’t done many, just this and Gunshoe (a film I really must get around to watching). He’s not bad, although at times the music seems to peter out when it’s just getting started.

Ex-Nazi’s were a favourite cinematic bad guy in the ‘70s, almost like they were making the most of them before they became too old to be a threat. The ODESSA File isn’t as good a film as Marathon Man, and its not as much fun as The Boys from Brazil but it is a good solid thriller.


I Spy: Thunderball

Bond hunts for two stolen nuclear warheads and comes face to face with SPECTRE’s Agent 2, Emilio Largo . By this point in the Bond series the freshness had started to dissipate but there is still much to enjoy here.

As was becoming the norm with the series, the ability to deliver your lines was a secondary requirement to appearance when casting villains and Bond girls. Both Claudine Auger as the beautiful Domino and Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo were dubbed but Auger does what the producers wanted, namely show of her figure in a series of skimpy swimsuits, and Celi’s Largo would provide the basis for Robert Wagner’s Number 2 in the Austin Powers films.

By comparison with previous films in the series, Thunderball is a little light on action, but John Barry’s excellent score keeps the suspense mounting as it blends itself into almost every scene. And once the action does kick off we are treated to a superb undersea free-for-all, with the goodies and baddies conveniently wearing colour coded wetsuits to allow us to keep track (villains, sticking with tradition, in black and the good guys wearing orange but with white oxygen tanks). In fact it’s the undersea photography that’s the most striking part of Thunderball, giving the film more of an exotic feel than even Ms Auger could provide.

Sean may be getting a little bored with the part, craving something a bit more challenging (something he got with Sidney Lumet’s The Hill) but he still delivers the quips with panache and certainly looks the part. After one more film though, we’d be saying bye-bye Sean, for a little while anyway.

James Bond will return in You Only Live Twice


Watching the Detectives: John Wayne is McQ

Stan Boyle, a friend of Lon McQ’s, is found badly wounded and the veteran cop is convinced local villain Manny Santiago is behind it, so he goes looking for a little payback. When he’s chastised by his superior, Ed Kosterman (Eddie Albert), for assaulting Santiago, McQ quits the force and searches for evidence that will prove Santiago was behind the murder (Boyle dies in hospital), but he discovers far more than he bargained for.

A John Wayne film directed by John Sturges is an exciting prospect but sadly the finished article failed to live up to its potential. Had they made a western together instead of a modern-day thriller things might have been different but Wayne is too old, too fat, and too out of his element in McQ for it to really work. Wayne’s westerns of the ‘70s had him, for the most part at least, aging gracefully, with his roles in Big Jake, The Cowboys, and The Shootist fitting the actor perfectly. Yet both the contemporary films he made that decade, this and Brannigan, have him playing a cop, when a man his age would have been pensioned off. Brannigan is the more fun of the two, it at least knows it’s silly and plays on that, but McQ plays it straight and is much the worse for it.

The idea of not one, but two, women throwing themselves at McQ is just one element that doesn’t sit right with me. Far worse though is the scene where McQ supplies Myra, played by Colleen Dewhurst, with drugs. There is something so fundamentally wrong with this that it’s quite unpleasant viewing. I’m all for actors playing against type, but Wayne isn’t doing that, McQ is very much an old fashioned western-style hero, even delivering lines like “Badmouth Boyle again and I’ll kill ya!” which makes that scene feel all the more out of place.

It’s not all bad though, Sturges may have been near the end of his career but he could still craft a decent action sequence. There’s a pretty good car chase, only let down by the fact that Wayne looks uncomfortable in the Trans Am he’s driving. The big finale on the beach is a classic western shootout, with horses traded in for cars and a Wayne swapping his six-shooter for a MAC-10 submachine gun.

Plot wise McQ makes little sense (why on earth would anyone hide drugs in McQ’s car?), the performances are adequate at best and the action only sporadically exciting, and yet I’ll quite happily watch this again (and I’ve already seen it several times over the years). Wayne has captivated me since childhood, and I’ll happily watch classics like The Searchers and Rio Bravo regularly and lesser films like McQ every few years. I do draw the line at The Conqueror though…


Literally Speaking: No Way Out

No Way Out starts with Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) being questioned, by whom and about what isn’t really clear. The film then jumps back three months and starts to fill in the details. We see Farrell fall for Susan Atwell (Sean Young) with Atwell equally besotted with him, problem is she also happens to be the mistress of Defense Secretary David Brice (Gene Hackman). This isn’t too big a problem initially, as Farrell is posted overseas, but when he’s called back to Washington by old friend Scott Pritchard (Will Patton) to work for Brice, a love triangle develops. Farrell isn’t too happy when he learns Brice is his competition, while Brice is not pleased when he discovers that all his generosity hasn’t bought Atwell’s fidelity. He’s so unhappy in fact that he gets a bit rough and accidently kills the girl. Cue Brice’s Mr Fix-it, Pritchard, who comes up with a clever plan to blame the murder on her lover (who they don’t know the identity of), frame him as a Russian spy and send…can you guess? Yep Farrell is assigned the job of hunting himself.

For the first forty minutes No Way Out is a love story, and a typically ‘80s one, with syrupy pop songs accompanying the sex/love scenes while a synthesiser score, by Maurice Jarre trying to sound like son Jean-Michel, fills in the gaps. With the death of Atwell though it becomes a Hitchcockian wrong-man style thriller, albeit one that really wishes it was a serous political thriller instead. Director Roger Donaldson keeps things moving along, sticking in a couple of chase sequences when the story starts to get bogged down, but he’s hampered early on by his actors.

Kevin Costner and Sean Young aren’t actors renowned for their displays of emotion. Reserved, restrained, controlled are all words that could be used to describe them, although I’m sure some would just describe them as wooden. So the idea that these two performers can convince us that they fall in love at first sight is about as slim as an anorexic supermodel. It’s fair to say the film only gets interesting when Young’s character stops breathing.

Costner always strikes me as unlikely sex symbol, he’s always seemed far more suited to roles like the arrow straight Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (made the same year) than this or Bull Durham. Yet both films did very well for him at the box office so I guess he must have something that makes the fairer sex go weak at the knees. Here he get to bonk Sean Young in a limousine, show off his hairy chest, do some running about and spend most of the film with a look of sincere concern on his face.

As David Brice, Gene Hackman gets a dry run for Absolute Power, which saw him get promoted from murdering Defense Secretary to murdering President. In truth Gene has little to do, with the role of chief villain filled by Will Patton instead. He could do with taking a leaf out of Costner’s acting manual. He gives a sweaty, nervous performance that makes you wonder how he convinces Brice to go along with the cover-up in the first place.

The film gets rounded off with a twist ending that must have seemed like a fine idea, a clever way to wrong foot the audience. It certainly does that, not because it’s clever but because it makes no sense. The film as a whole relies on a large number of coincidences but the ending pushes it to breaking point.


I Spy: The Spy with My Face

Evil organisation THRUSH (the series never explained what the acronym stands for) attempts to infiltrate UNCLE (that one stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement”) by replacing their top agent, Napoleon Solo, with a doppelganger. There aim is to crack an operation codenamed “The August Affair”, and get their hands on Project Earthsave, a top secret energy source.

Unlike Flint and Helm, The Man from UNCLE series played it (relatively) straight, at least it did until its third season. This “movie” is really a couple of first season episodes cobbled together, along with some extra footage that was a bit too risqué for television at the time. The film holds together relatively well considering, although it does plod a little in the middle. The series and these spin-off films would get better as the series found its feet. The villains improved as well, with some big name guest stars making an appearance. Here all we get is Senta Berger, who, while certainly not unpleasant to look at, isn’t particularly threatening.

Still at least Mr Smooth, Robert Vaughn, is on hand. Snappy dresser, seducer of beautiful women and no slouch when it comes to mixing it up with the bad guys, Napoleon Solo is America’s answer to James Bond and Vaughn is the perfect choice to play him. Here he also gets to play his double but doesn’t really get to have much fun being evil as he’s just pretending to be the real Solo.

David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin also seemed the more professional of the two, less inclined to let his libido lead him into trouble. Kuryakin must have felt a little inferior next to Solo but McCallum makes him the more likable of the two. You might want to be Solo but you’d rather have Kuryakin for a buddy.

Rounding out the regulars is Leo G. Carroll as Mr Waverly, UNCLE’s answer to M. He doesn’t really have much to do here, other than send Solo on his way but then that’s pretty much the nature of the role, just as it is with M in the Bond films.

With no sign of the complete series being released on DVD in the UK, and only available from Time Life in the USA (who won’t ship outside American) the only choice for UNCLE fans wanting a super-spy fix is the Region 2 box set containing five of the eight feature film versions. The film of the pilot, To Trap a Spy, isn’t included in the set, with things kicking off with this, the second movie, instead. It’s not vintage Man from UNCLE but it has some entertaining moments, with Vaughn and McCallum getting to grips with their characters. They’d become a better double act later on though.