Friday, 23 June 2017

Gonks Go Beat (1965)

Knocked out cheaply and quickly to cash in the youth culture and music of the day, Gonks Go Beat is by turn astonishing, excruciating and deathly dull.

In the not too distant future, Earth is split into two opposing factions, Hip, hairy, and cool Beat Land versus neat, tidy, crooner loving Ballad Isle. Every year they have a musical competition to decide who is best, with the judge being the subtly named Mr. A&R (Frank Thornton). Meanwhile the galactic overlords who rule over everything have for some reason decided to put an end to the squabbling, so send their worst agent, the ever bungling Wilco Roger (Kenneth Connor) to sort the situation out and bring the two sides together.

Having first about this many years ago, I was hoping for an unhinged lost classic, with a rip roaring sixties soundtrack, shoddy sets, a baffling plot, and genuine talents such as Connor, Thornton and Terry Scott degrading themselves, but the reality is a curate's egg. The songs play like promo videos, and music wise, Beat Land wins hands down, with the likes of Lulu, the Graham Bond Organisation (with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker), leaving Ballad Isle with some insipid, coma inducing tripe.

The story is baffling, the characters unengaging, and the comedy is painful to watch, and having seen some of the things Connor and Scott appeared in, I know they can make the corniest of gags work, but this is beyond even their talents.

I was hoping for a British version of Plan 9 From Outer Space, at least in terms of jaw dropping weirdness, but it lacks the truly deranged vision and energy of Ed Wood's work, and what should be a brain rotting piece of fun soon becomes a slog. If you're a fan of 60s Beat / Blues music, it is worth a watch, but it has little to recommend for anyone else.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Rear Window (1954)

One of Hitchcock greatest films, Rear Window is an ode to voyeurism that effortlessly combines mystery, wit, and romance, and has some interesting things to say about both the movies and moviegoers. Hitchcock is at the height of his powers, and his complete control of the film means there is not a wasted scene or line.

James Stewart plays L.B. Jeffries, a globe-trotting, thrill-seeking news photographer whose last assignment left him with a broken leg. Apart from visits from his socialite girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), and his insurance company nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), he is forced to spend the summer cooped up in his apartment, passing the time by taking an interest in the lives of his neighbours in the courtyard opposite. There is the beautiful ballet dancer, the newly married couple, Miss Lonely Hearts, a composer struggling with writer's block - and a salesman, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his bedridden wife. When the wife mysteriously disappears, Jeffries begins to think there is something sinister going on.

The whole story takes place in one room, something Hitchcock had attempted before with the flawed but interesting Rope, but here there are two important differences. Firstly, while Rope was set in real time, Rear Window takes place over a week or so, giving more time to introduce the characters and build up the storyline. Secondly, in Rear Window, the location is used to provide a portal into a much larger world.

The window itself becomes a metaphor for the screen that we watch the film on. What he is seeing is just like a movie. The characters and story form, he gets gripped by this, but at tense heart stopping moments, he is almost always as powerless to intervene as we are, and like us, is reduced to the role of passive voyeur.

The theme even extends beyond the on screen characters, to take in our viewing of the relationship between the two leads. There is great chemistry between the leads, and several times Hitchcock shoots passionate scenes between Stewart and Kelly in such an extreme close manner that we begin to feel like voyeurs.

However, in a further twist, Jeffries goes beyond the role of passive voyeur, when he tries to intervene in the plot of the unfolding story. After antagonising his chief suspect, said suspect performs the equivalent of the movie monster coming out of the cinema screen and into his real life, threatening him physically.

Hitchcock's genius is to set all this within a tense, witty suspense thriller with two gorgeous likeable and charismatic stars, and a great supporting cast, particularly the sinister Burr, and Thelma Ritter as Jeffries' droll nurse Stella, whose disapproving attitude towards the sleuthing soon morphs into morbid fascination.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Night Caller (1965)

After a meteorite crashes into the English countryside, scientist Jack Costain (John Saxon) and his team set out to investigate. They discover it is actually an alien device from one of Jupiter's moons used to transfer matter to Earth. But what is the connection between the visitor from outer space, a mystery man placing ads in the back pages of bikini magazines and the disappearance of anyone who answers them.

At times this feels like two different films thrown together lurching between Quatermass style extra terrestrial mystery and sleazy Soho-based whodunnit. What should have been either a creepy atmospheric chiller or a campy piece of fun is sunk by the script, which is both confusing and relentlessly talky, and the finished product is teeth-grindingly dull.

John Saxon does his best, heroically managing to sustain an English accent for the duration, and there is some fun to be had watching for cameos from Warren Mitchell as a father of a missing girl, Aubrey Morris as a squalid bookstore owner, and Ballard Berkeley, best known as the Major in Fawlty Towers.