Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Playing the fool… The Jokers (1967)

A young Michael Winner made a number of interesting films in the sixties… before success took him. Here he pokes fun at the establishment through the anarchic activities of two brothers fed up with the silver spoons in their mouths…

Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais – the writers of Catch Me a Spy and so many British comedy drama classics – the film has a little more edge than some of the swinging comedies of the time.

Edward Fox looks on as cheats almost prosper...
The brothers are played by Oliver Reed (a Winner regular at this time) and Michael Crawford who carries more unpredictable spite than his heavyweight sibling. Interestingly Crawford looked a lot like Reed’s actual brother… they were not so unlikely a pairing as it seemed.

The film starts with Crawford’s Michael in the army, trying to use his brother David, to help cheat his way to victory in war games… well, not cheat exactly, but bending the rules as far as they can. Sadly his commanding officer doesn’t believe in bend-able rules and Michael and the army part company.

Crawford, Reed and Lotte Tarp
It turns out to be not the first occasion when Michael's thinking has been too challenging for the powers that be as he has also been kicked out of Cambridge University and blown every single chance he’s had to take advantage of his rank and position. But is it a failing of character or a deeper need to think originally? Or maybe it’s just meant to be funny.

David is also an under-achiever, passing his time as an architect come interior designer having also been booted out of the army. His regular girlfriend, Eve, is played by the excellent Gabriella Licudi who was so committed in Herostratrus, Don Levy’s altogether more serious examination of sixties culture – there’s a good piece on it here.

Gabriella Licudi
After a few stultifying days at home with the parents and their deb of a sister, the boys begin to hatch a plan to really shock their oppressive establishment to the core. After a visit with David’s spare girlfriend Inge (Lotte Tarp) to the Tower of London, they resolve to “appropriate” the Crown Jewels.

Providing there is no provable intent to keep the royal treasures they figure they’ll be able to escape punishment whilst at the same time having a lark and proving how clever they are… They write letters to be left with their banks which will prove their benign intent after the deal is done and start a strategy of wrong-footing the forces of the state.
Swinging London 1966
David uses his army training to build small-scale explosive devices whilst Michael poses as an Irish terrorist, phoning instructions to the police. The first device is at the Albert Memorial and the boys observe the response of the police, led by Inspector Marryatt (a superb Harry Andrews) and the over confident leader of the bomb disposal unit Col. Simms (James Donald) – a man who’s arrogance deserves some kind of redress.
Brian Wilde and Harry Andrews
But, as the bombs get bigger there’s a bit of unease in watching these terrorist techniques being used as the basis of the comedy… But that’s the gap between then and now. Terror methods haven’t changed but perhaps we take things less flippantly now?

Winner unfolds the story well though and it’s only on the night of the “appropriation” that we understand how all of the pieces will fit together.

Oliver Reed and James Donald (left)
Michael and David disguise themselves as the soldiers called in to deal with a bomb at the Tower and, after swiftly disabling the useless Col. Simms, proceed to swap toys for the real jewels before faking serious injury as the bomb supposedly goes off.

Covered in fake blood, they are whisked away in an ambulance… they over-power the crew and are free to run home and hide the jewels in David’s flat.

So far so good and the two enjoy a few days gloating as the press whips the country into a paranoid frenzy over the theft. But, when the time comes to return the jewels David finds them gone. Michael claims no knowledge and it is only when the police arrive and Michael denies all knowledge that David realises that his brother may have betrayed him.

Gabriella Licudi and Oliver Reed
The film shifts a little in tone and Michael begins to look every inch the villain. David is locked up and Eve plays a more prominent role in trying to get to the truth, using her journalistic contacts to try and tempt Michael into making a mistake.

She is helped by their friend Riggs (Daniel Massey) who photographed Michael’s ostensible alibi at his sister’s coming out party.

Has Michael really betrayed his brother and is there a way out for both of the boys?

Michael denies all...
It’s a well-made film with a few twists and turns remaining in the plot till the end. Crawford acts believably as the runty younger brother with a point to prove although he doesn’t do posh-thug as well as Mr Reed! The script from Clement and La Frenais is amusing rather than outright funny but does keep you guessing.

There’s good support from the aforementioned Ms Licudi as well as Harry Anderson and a guest appearance from Michael Horden as the government minister with the wind up him! Hmm, maybe we haven’t changed that much… making the establishment sweat is all we have left in the post-democratic sterility of coalition-austerity Britain…

Gabriella Licudi and Michael Crawford
And is the brother’s will to win not pointedly anti-establishment but just the suppressed spirit of adventure that in times of trouble have brought out the best of Britain? Even by the late sixties the belief in eth characteristics that won this country wars was still strong in spite of all the pop cultural ennui around it…

Hang on... I've got an idea...
Dusty verdict: well worth keeping the VHS for some mostly light-hearted crime capering…it’s not on DVD anyway! Michael Winner made good films and this is certainly one of them.

Ollie keeps watch...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Technicolour dream… Deadly Sweet - Col Cuore in Gola (1967)

Ewa Aulin and Jean-Louis Trintignant
Now this is more like it! After the let down of the highly-flawed Candy, I wanted to see how Ewa Aulin came across in another film of similar vintage.

Directed by Tinto Brass (who’s career followed an entirely different direction from the 70s) Col cuore in gola (also I Am What I Am) is a surprisingly interesting film that not only tips a hat to Blow Up it tries to rob the clothes off it’s back: there’s even a quote from Antonioni from one of the main characters.

Swinging photography...
It’s got swinging London, mini skirts, cool lead actors and even features a section filmed at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream: a legendary “happening” at Alexandra Palace in the Summer of Love which featured Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix, The Syn and a host of psychedelia's finest.

Brass juxtaposes pop-art with his actors
 Brass directs with derivative verve throughout with every cinematic trick he can think of, from split screens, black and white sequences, angled shots and a mountain of decorative pop art. It’s a deliberate and successfully pop-arty statement in its own right and more interesting than many a cast-off British attempt to exploit the UK scene.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and highly-collectible 14 Hour poster
Another feather in the film’s cap is the male lead Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of Michael Hanke’s recently Oscar nominated Amour) who is pretty cool and carries the right amount of actorly skill to play off the film’s potential flippancy… he just about carries off drumming like a Muppet in one scene and swinging like Tarzan in another. But, overall, his Bernard is street smart and tough. Not quite sure if he’s a private eye or just an adventurer though.

The bad-scene of the crime...
But this doesn’t prevent him from falling for the charms of Ewa Aulin’s Jane, the seventeen year-old daughter of a recently-murdered business man whom he spots at a nightclub dancing her grief away.

He follows her deeper into the club and finds a man bludgeoned to death… he turns around and she’s there, in shock. He takes her with him after purloining a gun and some money…he’s not a straightforward hero…

Ewa Aulin
Aulin fits in so much better here than in Candy and proves that she can act and not just adorn. In fact her character is tougher than she looks and gives her much more to play with than the obscure cipher of the later film.

The plot is convoluted and there merely to provide a backdrop for the style…  Daddy was being blackmailed by the murdered man and there are some photographs which are not to be found. Bernard drags Jane away from the scene and returns to try and find the incriminating images.

Richmond Park...only the deer have changed...
He’s greeted by two thugs (one of which is played by future Darth Vader, Dave Prowse) who he manages to over-come in true comic book style.

Bernard and Jane get closer in her flat…the only real flash of nudity from the celebrated soft pornographer Brass, which is a dream of 60s pop-imagery. I’ve always thought that the “sixties” never really stopped and this could be any student’s pad at any time since...

Jane's groovy pad
Bernard starts to dig into Jane’s story and whilst her wicked step-mother Martha (Vira Silenti) and her lover look hot favourites, he seeks out her brother David (Roberto Bisacco). Before he can find him, he and Jane are spotted by a dwarf (yep!) working for the bad guys (whoever they are) who arranges for Jane to be kidnapped.

David drives an E-type Jaguar!
Bernard and David stage a dramatic rescue of Jane, who has been tie up and stripped down to her lingerie by her captors… but hang on, this might actually be justified by the plot.

The rescue...
Jane and Bernard are spotted again by the heavies who chase them across London in one of the film’s most interesting sight-seeing sequences. Brass relishes his locations and it’s great to see the city as it was and still remains…

Underground, overground...
The chase ends up at Wimbledon dog track where Bernard is cornered and beaten up. Naturally he escapes and returns to Jane with remarkably little bruising…he’s tough alright.

By now we’re convinced that the Wicked Step-mother’s lover is to blame but Bernard and Jane find him dead in his bath and incriminating necklace on the floor…but where is his murderous lover?

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Vira Silenti & that very valuable poster...
For some reason the middle-aged socialite has decided to head to Alexandra Palace to check out Soft Machine and the rest of at the International Times fundraising 24 Hour Technicolour Dream – Granny Takes a Trip?

The Great Hall, Alexandra Palace...
Cue scenes of Bernard and Jane traipsing through Ally Pally whilst the chaos goes on all around and spaced out scene-sters freak out for the cameras…

Bernard tracks down Martha and the pieces begin to fall into place… the ending twisting in un-expected ways as dawn breaks over N22…

Dusty verdict: turn off your mind relax and float down stream… unchallenging, psychedelic-noir with engaging lead actors, swinging scenery and imagery. Available on DVD across the universe.

For more on the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream check out a Man Alive documentary on YouTube and Floyd-fan, Colin Turner's recollections of the event over here.

Look what's playing at the Pavilion!
Ewa acts
Trintignant's only percusive role?