It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Chain Reaction Film Club entry, but rest assured it has been carrying on in the background. Last time I posted about it we’d just tackled Animal Kingdom. Here’s how the chain has continued – I won’t put in a slavish entry for every film, but a few broad strokes.
From Animal Kingdom we linked to Kinky Boots via Joel Edgerton. It’s a somewhat different tone (Australian crime family to British drag queen shoe manufacturing), and although Joel and Chiwetel Ejiofor put in decent performances it never quite rises above a sort of Full Monty lite. I started drafting a post about it, but it just descended into a rant about how unfair it is that Idris Elba is always mooted as the first black James Bond but Chiwetel seldom is. He’d be excellent. So that’s you told. Apropos of nothing, my other half saw Chiwetel, Bill Nighy and Andrew Lincoln in Joe Penhall’s play Blue Orange years ago. What a cast.
Using Chiwetel Ejiofor we moved on to Inside Man, a 2006 Spike Lee joint that was perfectly enjoyable. Though now I write about it a couple of months down the line I’m actually struggling to remember much about it. Chiwetel was underused though, I remember that much. Oh, get ready for a spoiler… I absolutely loved the bait-and-switch tension the title gave the film. As it deals with a bank heist the instant assumption is that either the cops or the criminals have a man on the other side. But for once that’s not quite what’s going on… I can’t remember another film that built tension purely from its title. Also, the way Jodie Foster says Baron De Rothschild is worth the entry price.
The big cheese in Inside Man was played by Christopher Plummer, and so I decided to tackle his Kipling. The Man Who Would Be King (1975) is one of those films that everyone else seemed to see repeatedly on lazy Sundays growing up, but I didn’t goddammit and I think I missed out. Michael Caine and Sean Connery are the ne’erdowells who decide to take over a country and somehow manage it until their own greed plays against them. It’s a top watch, despite Connery’s repeated ‘we two Englishmen’ lines being spewed in his Scottish accent.
Following that I was up for a season of either Connery or Caine films, and we plumped for the latter. So over the course of a few weeks we tackled Zulu (which I did see on lazy Sundays growing up, and was not quite as problematic as I feared it might now be), Gambit (1966 – an incredibly well played twist early on), The Ipcress File (it must surely rate as one of the most British films ever made, and certainly features some of the best passive-aggressive paperwork) and two of its follow ups – Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain (the law of diminishing returns applies).
Finally, having started the season with a war epic, we finished with the same. 1969’s all-star Battle of Britain which was worth watching purely for the scene of Edward Fox parachuting into a greenhouse. Here, I’ll save you a couple of hours, watch this.
Making a wonderfully fresh-faced appearance in Battle of Britain was Ian MacShane and so I poopooed the likes of Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier’s weighty filmographies and plumped instead for The Last Of Sheila.
It’s a sort of whodunnit cat and mouse affair about a film producer going on a cruise to uncover which of his chums killed his wife in a hit-and-run. Strangely enough it was the only the only film either of its co-writers ever scripted. And who were those writers? Why Psycho’s Anthony Perkins and composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim! Apparently they used to host murder mystery treasure hunts for their celeb chums and it spun out of that.
It’s surprisingly good and nicely twisty, however there is one deeply strange thing in it. The game the producer plays is to give each of his guests a card with a dark secret on. Over the course of a week the game is meant to be deciphering who has which card. The secrets don’t correspond to the person who has the card, but they are of course, a secret harboured by one of the other guests. Raquel Welch’s diva character is devastated when it’s revealed that she shoplifted a coat early in her career. However when it is revealed that James Mason’s character is a child molester there is no comment. It’s mentioned a couple more times in the film and, despite the fact that one of the other characters was around him when she was a child, no further comment is passed. It is completely shrugged off. Now, this was in the 70s and we’re living in a post-Saville world, but even so surely it wasn’t something to be glossed over. On the plus side, James Mason’s voice is gloriously James Masony.
From his dulcet tones in The Last of Sheila we pivoted to an occasionally German accented James Mason in The Boys From Brazil. I’m a big fan of Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, and while this wasn’t on that same level it was still enjoyable. Laurence Olivier and Steve Guttenberg are Nazi hunters (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), and uncover Dr. Mengele alive and well in Panama. But an evil scheme is afoot… Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for it but Peck’s performance was apparently lambasted by critics at the time. Seeing it for the first time now, I’d argue that Olivier’s performance almost ruins the film and Peck is excellently monstrous.
So good was Peck in fact, that I struggled to pick just one film for the following week. But eventually I settled on Cape Fear – the 1962 version. He does actually appear in the 1991 version too so we may well get to that shortly. I know the Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons very well, though it seems like that’s more of a riff on the 90s version. I worried that Sideshow Bob’s version of Max Cady’s evil revenge story might soften Cape Fear a bit, but my gosh was I wrong. Robert Mitchum is incredibly horrible, and despite some censoring and the removal of references to child rape from the script, it’s really clear what his plan is. Peck is a muscular counterpoint to Cady and the testing of his almost inflexible moral core creates brilliant tension. One of the best we’ve seen in the 90 films we’ve tackled since the starting point of Chain Reaction.
Phew. That’s caught me right up to speed. It’s Tim’s choice this week and I’m hoping for another Peck film. I had about 8 or 9 on my Peck shortlist without even looking at any Westerns or war films. And most importantly I could name the season ‘The Pecking Order’, so presumably we have to do it now. Got a favourite Gregory Peck film? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!