Archive for September, 2012

The Bolshoi Ballet 1957 – Who saw this one ?

I remember as a young lad being taken by the local Grammar School to see this film and coming across this old magazine reminded me of the film and that occasion. All the class and more were effectively marched down to the centre of town to the old Majestic Cinema I think – in fact I am pretty sure it was. This sort of culture didn’t exactly excite us at the age we were but I do remember the film was in colour AND Cinemascope I think – but if not certainly wide screen. During the years at the Grammar School, we went to the cinema to see The Conquest of Everest,  Richard III  and  The Bolshoi Ballet. An unusual selection BUT a good one at that and very varied.

Below I have found a comment from someone who must have really known about the film’s quality – as I wish we had at the time. The Director of the film was Paul Czinner.

Czinner’s film records performances by Galina Ulanova and the Bolshoi Ballet in England in 1956. Ulanova’s Giselle is the greatest ever recorded, and this film is precious. Czinner filmed with multiple cameras one act of “Giselle” each night at Covent Garden after the regular performance. Ulanova was considered the greatest Giselle of her time, and this film shows why. She was at the end of her performing career, but her dancing is brilliant (though mostly not virtuosic) and heartbreaking. This film is of inestimable value.


I did pose the question in the title to this item – Who saw this one ?   So if anyone did see this at the time then please make a comment which would be very welcome.  Thanks.

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The Miniver Story 1950

This one just scrapes into the fifties as it was released quite early in 1950. The film although treated to MGM s expensive production values somehow did not appeal to the public as Mrs Miniver had done a few years before. Maybe fashions had changed and also it was no longer wartime and maybe people wanted something else from a film. It wasn’t a bad film although it is some years since I saw it.

This film was made in England by MGM

 The pictures  below show Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson posing for publicity stills – I wish I knew where that was – does anyone know ?  MGM were at Boreham Wood at the time and previously had used Denham Studios – my own favourite – and I reckon these shots are on the lake at the back of Denham Studios where Treasure Island and Mr Polly were filmed.

 Film Publicity Stills below  –   at Denham ??

This film was released late 1950 

Greer Garson reprises her award-winning performance as Kay Miniver in this sequel to the wartime hit MRS. MINIVER. World War II has ended and like most families in England, the Minivers are trying to rebuild their lives. Mr. Miniver (Walter Pidgeon) wants to start over in Brazil. Son Toby (William Fox) wants to jitterbug in America. Daughter Judy (Cathy O’Donnell) is in love with a married officer. And, Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) is struggling with her own deep, dark secret that threatens to destroy the entire family. Kay has learned that she has terminal cancer, but with the family finally reunited in London after a lengthy separation, she does not feel it’s the time to reveal this sad news. Instead, the selfless Kay, knowing the end is near, decides to make sure that her loved ones will be well taken care of after her death. H.C. Potter directs and manages to keep the story sympathetic without falling prey to melodrama.

Interestingly in the storyline no mention is ever made of the eldest Miniver son, Vincent, who appeared in the earlier film, possibly because Greer Garson and Richard Ney (the actor who portrayed him) had been married and divorced (1943–1947) by the time The Miniver Story was produced in 1950.

Another character in the film was Peter Finch, then largely unknown and in fact he remained that way largely until he portrayed The Sheriff of Nottingham in Walt Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood – made at Denham – in fact the very last film to be made there.   In that film  he seemed to catch the eye of producers and from then on went  from strength to strength.

Above is Peter Finch in a much later Disney film ‘Kidnapped’ as Alan Breck Stuart

Leo Genn had a leading role. He later played in Moby Dock I remember.

Interestingly an early role went to actor  William Fox as the son  – later to become much better known as James Fox who has had a prolific career in films, TV and theatre.


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Third Man on the Mountain – Disney 1959

This is described as the best film about mountaineering ever made.    That is quite a boast but anyone seeing this movie might well agree with that comment.








Ken Annakin directed what was his third film for Walt Disney – and what a good one it was.

 For anyone who’s ever or who’s NEVER climbed a mountain (like me)this movie is a real treat.
James MacArthur  plays Rudy Matt, the son of the famous mountain climber Joseph Matt who tragically lost his life while climbing the famed Citadel mountain. Rudy’s father sacrificed his own life to save the climber that he was responsible for as his guide.

Janet Munro could melt any mans heart. She is sweet, full of fun and very beautiful. What a shame for her to die so young.   In this film she was a ball of energy.  It’s easy to realize why Walt Disney saw so much in her.

Michael Rennie was cast as the famous climber captain Winter who helps Rudy with his support when his uncle, played by James Donald, does not want him to be a guide and meet with the same fate as his father.

Laurence Naismith as always gives a great performance as Teo; the older friend and climber of Rudy’s father who was there when he died. Teo’s bark is worse than his bite and his warmth and love for both Lizbeth and Rudy is seen in many ways.

Herbert Lom also had a leading part in the film but on location he proved a bit of a pain because as Ken Annakin says, he would not do any dangerous shots on the mountain without scaffolding and he did not like the heights at all with the effect that  filming was held up  a number of times while safety elements were put in place.  However despite these difficulties with him,  the film was completed.    Herbert Lom turned to Ken and said  that although he would not risk himself  that he was after all  an actor and he assured Ken that what he would get on the screen would be OK.   On seeing the completed film, Ken Annakin had to admit that the most convincing actor climing the Matterhorn was – you guessed it – Herbert Lom !!!


Herbert Lom was born Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchacevič ze Schluderpacheru in Prague to upper-class parents Karl ze Schluderpacheru and his spouse Olga née Gottlieb who were members of Austrian nobility

Lom escaped to England  in January 1939 because of the impending Nazi occupation of the Czechoslovaki.   He made numerous appearances in British films throughout the 1940s, usually in villainous roles, although he later appeared in comedies as well.

In the Fifties he made a number of films including this one and the same year he was in North West Frontier – another one I like – set in India.

 Many of us will remember him as Dr.Roger Korda in the British television drama, The Human Jungle  (1963–64) as a Harley Street psychiatrist and this was very good and is frequently talked about even today.


Back to First Man on the Mountain –

The acting is amazing, the cinematography is breathtaking.    The filming was on location in Zermatt Switzerland where the 14,000 foot Matterhorn stands.


However one thing must be said about the terrifying shots achieved on screen because much of the really scary stuff was actually painted in later by Matte Genius of the World – Peter Ellenshaw who had worked for Disney on Robin Hood, Sword and the Rose, Rob Roy, 20,000 Leagues etc etc and many of the breathtaking scenes in any of these films were the work of Peter –  BUT so good was he with this special craft that most of the audience wouldn’t know that for instance – when you see a castle on a hill with the action below – the castle itself was matte painted onto glass in front of the camera and fitted exactly to the picture on screen. This was done to great effect on this film. Walt Disney wrapped up filming in Switzerland and turned to Ken Annakin and said ‘ Peter will be able to paint in the scary down shots far better than we can get’ and as Ken says ‘ Walt was right to such an extent that some of the audience at a preview of the film left the cinema with vertigo after seeing the sheer cliff faces and the drops below –  although none of them were aware that a master craftsman had in fact painted them in.

So just remember that when anyone says that ‘it was filmed in Switzerland on location with great effects’ that you are being visually tricked – and you would never know.

It still remains one of the most beautiful climbing films of all time thanks in a great part to Peter Ellenshaw. His work in Mary Poppins and Darby O Gill are outstanding – in fact Darby O Gill and the Little People is rated by many film experts as being one of the outstanding special effects films of all time. I have done a post on it earlier

If you are a fan of Walt Disney, this is a must see film.
This is the way movies should be made. It’s sad Hollywood does not do it like this anymore.

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An Inspector Calls – Alistair Sim

A new version of this was done by the BBC in England a few months agp

it was actually very well done and well cast. This version though with Alistair Sim holds up very well indeed. A classic play.

Very much a one-off in character actor terms would be Alistair Sim who had in 1951 starred as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol – the very best version of this Dickens tale.  Later also in the Fifties he would appear in The Green Man a sort of comedy drama and in this he used his wonderfully expressive face to great effect. I love that film and will come back to it later no doubt.

However on to An Inspector Calls – a very well known and frequently performed play by J.B. Priestley another of my personal favourites. A great British playwright and in a different mould to Terence Rattigan but nevertheless he was a provider of thought provoking drama.

The basic stoyline is as follows:-

At dinner at the Birlings’ home in 1912, Arthur Birling, a wealthy mill owner and local politician, and his family are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to Gerald Croft, son of a competitor of Birling’s. Also there  is Sibyl Birling, Arthur’s wife and Sheila and Eric’s mother, and Eric Birling, Sheila’s younger brother, who has a drinking problem that is discreetly ignored. After dinner, Arthur speaks about the importance of self-reliance. A man, he says, must “make his own way” and protect his own interests.

An Inspector Goole (Alistair Sim) arrives quite out of the blue and explains that a woman called Eva Smith has killed herself by drinking disinfectant. He implies that she has left a diary naming names, including members of the Birling family. Goole produces a photograph of Eva and shows it to Arthur, who acknowledges that she worked in one of his mills. He admits that he dismissed her 18 months ago for her involvement in a workers’ strike. He denies responsibility for her death.

Sheila enters the room and is drawn into the discussion. After prompting from Goole, she admits to recognizing Eva as well. She confesses that Eva served her in a department store and Sheila contrived to have her fired for an imagined slight. She admits that Eva’s behaviour had been blameless and that the firing was motivated solely by Sheila’s jealousy and spite towards a pretty working-class woman.

Sybil enters the room and Inspector Goole continues his interrogation, revealing that Eva was also known as Daisy Renton. Gerald starts at the mention of the name and Sheila becomes suspicious. Gerald admits that he met a woman by that name in a theatre bar. He gave her money and arranged to see her again. Goole reveals that Gerald had installed Eva as his mistress, and gave her money and promises of continued support before ending the relationship. Arthur and Sybil are horrified. As an ashamed Gerald exits the room, Sheila acknowledges his nature and credits him for speaking truthfully but also signals that their engagement is over.

Inspector Goole identifies Sybil as the head of a women’s charity to which Eva/Daisy had turned for help. Despite Sybil’s haughty responses, she eventually admits that Eva, pregnant and destitute, had asked the committee for financial aid. Sybil convinces the committee that the girl is a liar and the application should be denied. Despite vigorous cross-examination from Goole, Sybil denies any wrongdoing. Sheila begs her mother not to continue, but Goole plays his final card, making Sybil admit that the “drunken young man” should give a ‘public confession, accepting all the blame’. Eric enters the room, and after brief questioning from Goole, he breaks down, admitting that he drunkenly forced Eva to have sex and stole £50 from his father’s business to pay her off when she became pregnant. Arthur and Sybil break down, and the family dissolves into screaming recriminations.

Goole accuses them of contributing to Eva’s death. He reminds the Birlings (and the audience) that actions have consequences. “If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”

Gerald returns, telling the family that there may be no ‘Inspector Goole’ on the police force. Arthur makes a call to the Chief Constable, who confirms this. Gerald points out that as Goole was lying about being a policeman, there may be no dead girl. Placing a second call to the local infirmary, Gerald determines that no recent cases of suicide have been reported. The elder Birlings and Gerald celebrate, with Arthur dismissing the evening’s events as “moonshine” and “bluffing”.

The film ends with a telephone call, taken by Arthur, who reports that the body of a young woman has been found, a suspected case of suicide by disinfectant, and that the local police are on their way to question the Birlings. The true identity of Inspector Goole is never explained, but it is clear that the family’s confessions over the course of the evening are true, and that they will be disgraced publicly when news of their involvement in Eva’s demise is revealed.

It is a classic case of  ‘unzipping a banana’ in that we all are watching a gradual revelation of cruel and heartless behaviour from so called pillars of society and they themselves are pushed into eventual acceptance of their shame as Alistair Sim’s character The Inspector looks on knowingly as each one is forced to reveal their part in the tragedy.  Although we suspect what the future holds that is left in the air.

This is a similar plot line to a 1935 Film ‘ The Passing of the Third Floor Back’ with Conrad Veidt as The Stranger who enters a house of converted flats or rooms and again gradually opens the door on similar goings on. I wonder how many of the readers here know of this film. I do have a DVD copy if anyone would like one – it is a good film. In this one the unfortunate girl is played by Rene Ray who looks very like Jane Wenham who played Eva Smith in An Inspector Calls.     Again in ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’ film Conrad Veidt’s character was mysterious but exhuding great power as if a divine prescence.

I have taken from the Movie Data Base an extract from a comment made about this film:-

René Ray is wonderful as Stasia, servant girl at a London boarding house occupied by a nasty landlady and a wicked bunch of boarders. Stasia was hired on the cheap from a reformatory and receives nothing but scorn and cruelty from the boarders. She longs for escape, or at least a bit of kindness: “If only there was one decent person….” Pushed to her limit, Stasia heads for the door, where—

Conrad Veidt walks in and immediately the girl senses something different in him. It’s a beautiful, surprising scene: She is suddenly smiling.

Veidt is a very polite, extremely soft-spoken and apparently nameless stranger. He leases a tiny third floor apartment in the house and quickly and quietly changes the atmosphere, the relationships, the attitudes of the other boarders.

Among the group, Beatrix Lehmann stands out as Miss Kite, a not-so-old spinster who is bitter that time is passing her by—and in whom the spark of energy and love of life is perhaps re-lit. Anna Lee gives a strong performance as the beautiful young woman who is her impoverished parents’ only valuable possession. Must she marry the wealthy Mr. Wright, thus solving their financial problems? It’s a heartbreaking dilemma; Lee makes it seem real.

Frank Cellier is the slimy Mr. Wright, a businessman whose success is achieved through laying others low. Alone among the boarders, Mr. Wright is not affected by the stranger’s mysterious presence. The action will eventually build toward a showdown of sorts…but not one in any way conventional or expected.

Although most of the action takes place in the boarding house, a joyous sequence in the film’s midsection shows the group taking a boat trip down the Thames. The characters loosen up, find enjoyment, begin friendships. The wonder in Stasia’s face when the boat goes under the Tower Bridge as it opens for them! It’s a glorious moment.

Conrad Veidt (see above still) is mesmerising and intense; –  René Ray is full of fear and joy and excitement. Their scenes together are quite wonderful.

It’s an oddball movie, not particularly easy to watch; it looks evil and human weakness pretty directly in the face. But it’s also positively moving—it’s certainly left me thinking and wondering what it’s all about – and I guarantee it will leave YOU wondering but also mesmerised by Conrad Veidt’s wonderful and powerful performance as The Stranger.

I hope everyone who reads this Blog will watch both of these films – One from the Fifties and the other much earlier.

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