A bomb is planted in a car. We follow it through the streets of London. When the countdown reaches zero, instead of an explosion, gas is released and knocks out the driver and his passenger. Enter our heroes/gangsters in their fake ambulance. And that, our friends, is how you kidnap someone in broad daylight!
But even a well-planned and perfectly executed heist is not foolproof. The police are onto them, leading to an adrenaline-filled and insane car chase. After they get away (spoiler! Sorry!) and have cooled down a bit, it is time to plot, plan and rehearse the actual heist – one very much inspired by the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
Robbery is very much in the tradition of Topkapi, Rififi, and even Gambit. There’s an elaborate scheme which has been planned to the last detail, there’s a motley yet lovable crew of misfits – each hand picked for their job, and there’s a lot that could go wrong. There’s also a kinda, sorta love story here, but honestly it seemed a bit forced. It certainly wasn’t necessary for the plot.
Our favourite scenes were the opening heist and the subsequent car chase, as well as the prison break. We also loved the meticulous planning and the main heist, of course. Robbery touches on most clichés within the heist movie genre, but it does it well and it’s thrilling from start to end, so we have no complaints.
Joy (White) gets pregnant at a young age and marries her baby-daddy Tom (Bindon), despite him being an abusive dick. As a young, working class girl we can’t imagine she felt she had much choice in the matter. Luckily for her, her hubby is caught during a robbery and is sent off to jail. Yay!
Once Tom’s out of the picture, life gets better. She starts a relationship with Dave (Stamp) – another criminal, but one who treats her well and takes good care of both her and her son Johnny. However, soon he too is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a brutal robbery. Not yay. Well, sort of yay, seeing he really is a violent criminal (with a penchant for collecting ladies, which isn’t very nice). So, all in all a semi-yay. A muted celebration. Prosecco in lieu of champagne. That sort of shindig.
Joy stays in touch with Dave in prison and continues their relationship as best she can, but a girl’s gotta make a living. She gets a job as a barmaid, and then as a model for a bunch of perverts who get their rocks off taking pictures of scantily clad women. But as her friend points out, she enjoys sex and flirting too much to make a career out of prostitution – she’s very happy to do it for free! Fair enough. Soon however, Tom is released from prison, and Joy is faced with some tough choices… And she makes the very worst one! The idiot…
We must admit a pattern in ourselves, where we’re sometimes a little bit unenthusiastic about putting on kitchen sink dramas (sometimes you just want stupid entertainment from a movie, not life lessons or heart breaking drama!)… But more often than not we end up really enjoying them, and that is exactly what happened with this movie.
Despite our misgivings about Joy’s choices, Poor Cow is quite engaging. It woke us right up with the childbirth in the opening scene and we liked the efficient storytelling – by skipping from scene to scene we get the whole story with minimal effort on all our parts. And we love us some minimal effort. We also loved the faces in the crowd – Loach knew how to pick them! – the fact that the women actually liked sex and, as per usual, the clothes and the hair. Was it our favourite social realism kitchen sink drama British new wave type of film? No. But was it worth watching? Yes, definitely.
However, we’re not entirely sure what to think of Joy. We don’t really get any insight into her internal workings, which kind of works – she remains a bit of a mystery. But man, make good choices, girl! And if your reaction to realising that your son is the most important thing in your life is to stay with his abusive dad who clearly gives no shits about him or you, then you need to sort out your priorities.
Starring: Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, Donal Donnelly
Runtime: 1h 25min
First off, we do apologize for the sporadic posting – it’s partly to stall for time until we can get our hands on the next movies on the list (apparently, some are on their way!), but also partly because working from home actually turned out to be more time consuming than going into work, so we’re sort of a bit swamped… We will do our best though, and hope you all can be patient with us in these strange times.
Basically, an incel (Crawford) and a sleezy philanderer (and potential rapist) (Brooks) live in the same building, the former being driven a bit cray-cray by the latter’s long line of conquests. And also by the young girls in the school he works in who play netball in short skirts. The harlots!
Things change when artist Tom (Donnelly) moves into their spare room, and Female Character/Object Nancy (Tushingham) arrives in town. Tom and Colin (incel-dude) meet Nancy while she’s looking for the YWCA and bring her home to be victimized by Tolan (rapey-dude). However, after some really weird stuff goes down, she decides she’s attracted to Colin instead.
Don’t get us wrong, there were things about this which we liked. The bed moving sequence is epic, we loved all the gags with doors opening and closing, and we really enjoyed to pace of the dialogue and the Greek choir of judgy people in the background commenting on everything that happened.
We also kind of have a little sort of girl crush on Rita Tushingham. But we were a bit let down by her character. When she was first introduced, we thought she might be at least slightly sharp – the way she saw through the shop clerk and mocked his insincere flattery. However, once she started actually falling for Tolan’s crap even after she was CLEARLY very uncomfortable with his attention, we gave up. She wasn’t a person after all.
That being said, the scene with them in the white room was very good, if only because the interaction between Nancy and Tolan was so very, very uncomfortable and rapey. Not that Colin is much better. Tolan and Colin are just misogynistic in different ways – none of them seemed to see women as people, just objects to be desired and earned.
Overall, this gave the impression of being set in some weird fantasy world, the rules of which we were not informed. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we tend to enjoy being thrown into those worlds. It’s just that this one didn’t engage us. There are good gags and a good pace, but otherwise this struck us as a bit rapey, incely, and dated. Is it possible we misread it? Of course! But we’re still not sold…
After a long and strange morning ritual (who goes through all that trouble to grind beans and make French press coffee and then NOT let it steep??? You’re basically drinking beige water at that point), Sergeant Harry Palmer (Caine) of the Ministry of Defence goes into work and is given a new mission recovering the misplaced scientific equipment.
The “insubordinate trickster” Palmer starts to track down the main suspect, Albanian scientist-stealer “Bluejay” (Gatliff), alongside fellow spies and officers, including love interest Jean Courtney (Lloyd). However, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is a mole inside the British Army. Who can it be?
Can you do better than The Ipcress File if you’re in the mood for an espionage thriller with brainwashed scientists, sexual tension, double crossing weasels, cheeky yet charming scoundrels, and some sort of cooking fetish? Possibly. But you can certainly do a hell of a lot worse!
Michael Caine is more likable than he has any right to be, and we enjoyed the bureaucracy of espionage – you never see a single L101 in a Bond-film! We also loved the exchange in the parking garage, the library (we want one!), the bowler hats, all the lamps, the shot composition, and the sort of jazzy/noiry music.
What we learned: Don’t slouch like a pregnant camel. Also, Sister the Youngest learned the advantages of a revolver vs. an automatic for when you want to get away with a crime. Sister the Oldest has known for a very long time…
Diana Scott (Christie) is being interviewed for “Ideal Woman,” telling the story of her life. And what a life! From a “normal” life and a normal marriage, she becomes friends, and later lovers, with reporter Robert Gold (Bogarde). The two of them move through in the London art scene in the swinging sixties, partying and being adored.
They both leave their spouses for each other and move in together. However, Diana becomes very jealous when Robert goes back to his ex to see his kids. In fact, she decides to have her own child, but changes her mind when it becomes a reality.
Diana, bored with Robert who likes to stay home and write, continues to seduce and be seduced to further her own modelling and acting career. She moves up in the world one man at a time while not playing very well with other women at all, all of whom she sees as threats. But what does she really want from life?
We loved the clothes, the decadence and hypocrisy, the out and proud gay people, and all the fake books hiding vices throughout the movie. Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde are wonderful as Diana and Robert, with both good and bad qualities.
As she desperately starts searching for her girl, Ann finds that she has trouble convincing people that Bunny really exists. Apart from her brother Steven (Dullea), no one in England has ever seen the girl since they came over from the USA – not even the audience.
Even Bunny’s things have gone missing from their new house, and supercreepy landlord Horacio Wilson (Coward) cannot remember seeing them despite being very invasive while Ann was unpacking her toys and clothes. And now we are no longer sure there ever was a girl. But fear not! Superintendent Newhouse (Olivier) is on the case and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery!
We loved this SO much! The characters are amazing and the mystery is very well done. Carol Lynley is wonderful as the increasingly frustrated and desperate Ann (while looking very much like a 1960s Keri Russell. Or the other way around, we suppose). Noël Coward is Creepy McCreeperson, Keir Dullea is slightly sinister, and Laurence Olivier’s Newhouse is likable from his very first appearance.
Trying to figure out who to believe and what is really going on was fun and kept us guessing (although our suspicions were eventually confirmed. Yay us!) Despite her slow start, Ann turned out to have agency and cunning – she was not just a damsel in distress!
Jennie (Munro) is a small town girl living in a lonely world. She takes the midnight train going anywhere. Well, actually, she gets a drunken ride with a couple of older men to their apartment in London and is raped and abandoned. But that doesn’t sound as nice.
Her whole life she has dreamed of the luxury and fame she’s been sold in commercials and movies, but when she tries to pursue it, she is brutally punished by every man she meets. After the rape, she meets barman Bob (Stride) who invites her to stay with him, and the two start a relationship. However, Jennie is not satisfied with just staying at home and being a girlfriend – she wants a career of her own, which Bob sees as a threat to their relationship. Actually, he sees everyone as a threat to their relationship, and would rather have Jennie stay at home and never talk to anyone but him ever again. When she meets abusive producer Karl Denny (Badel), she immediately (and completely out of character) surrenders to him and leaves Bob.
Now, Bitter Harvest is an interesting one. Everything we’ve read about this movie (which, granted, isn’t a lot, but still) seems to suggest Jennie is a manipulative, selfish young woman who will do anything to get ahead, and who doesn’t appreciate what she has. But this is not how we read it at all.
What we saw was a young, sweet and naïve, though willful, girl who stood up for herself and dreamed of a more exciting life. When she told “nice guy” Bob she was pregnant at their first meeting, she wasn’t lying but thought she told him the truth – she had had sex (read: had been raped) and thus she must be pregnant.
Also, she never lies to Bob about what she needs money for, or where she’s going. She just (rightfully) assumes that this is her choice to make, and that if he loves her, he will support her choices. However, despite his kindness in taking her in when they both think she’s pregnant with another man’s child, Bob is a controlling and condescending asshole who resorts to threats and violence when Jennie makes her own choices. When she refuses to leave with him, he tries to strangle her, suggesting he’s not really the nice guy he is painted to be.
Jennie’s willful and autonomous side is also what makes her complete surrender at Denny’s slap seem out of character. Personally, we feel that in order to control her like that, he needed to build up to it, not slap her on the first night. However, perhaps her hope of a better life blinds her.
Finally, just a couple of words about the popular interpretation of her “little black book” that the police find in her apartment: we didn’t interpret that as evidence of her “promiscuity” as many suggest, but as evidence of Denny prostituting her. However, none of us has read the book the movie is based on – our interpretation is based solely on the movie we watched. And in that, we think Jennie has been unfairly treated by several viewers.
As mentioned, there are some similarities between Jennie and Patsy from The Small World of Sammy Lee, made especially clear to us as we watched them as a double feature. The difference is that Patsy stumbles into the sex trade because of her love for a man, while Jennie falls into it due to ambition and a hope for a better life for herself. Thus, Patsy makes it out while Jennie must be punished. Really – give us time and money and we can probably write a thesis on this. Although we suspect this has already been done many times over…
So, how do we feel about Bitter Harvest? We think it’s an interesting film to watch, but it’s problematic enough that we can see how it has been removed from the list.
What we learned: Apparently, girls should be satisfied with what they have, whether it’s an uneventful life in a small, dead town or as a spouse to a man prone to violence whenever he doesn’t get his way.
Next time: Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
No, we are not dead. We just had to take a small hiatus due to exams and related stress enducing activities which take a lot of time away from writing. But things are calming down (only two weeks until the summer break for some of us!) and we’re ready to get back into it. And we do so with classic British crime film The Small World of Sammy Lee.
Patsy (Foster) arrives at a Soho strip club looking for Sammy Lee (Newley), the compère at the club who she had a fling with, and a job. Unfortunately for her, he’s off gambling and getting further into debt with a local kingpin, so she’s left with his sleazy boss instead.
Returning to work, Sammy is not overly pleased to learn that Patsy has found a job there, but at least she’s hired as a waitress rather than a stripper. For the time being. Additionally, he receives a call informing him that his debt of £300 is to be collected immediately. Although he does manage to talk the debt collectors into giving him 5 hours to come up with the money.
Sammy has to pull all his strings, exhaust all his contacts and juggle all his ideas to make the money in the allotted time in order to survive the night. As the night goes on, the deals get shadier and shadier, and he will pull all those who love him down with him.
Sammy Lee is charming and funny, but a selfish bastard. His contact with his brother is limited to asking for money, and he has lots of acquaintances and very few friends. He pleads with the men in his life for money, but dismisses all the women who want to help him, probably out of some false sense of chivalry. Poor Patsy deserves better.
The Small World of Sammy Lee is tense and engaging, and we enjoyed it a lot. We also secretly liked the gratuitous strip tease scenes with the elaborate scenarios, despite our lack of understanding of their sexual appeal (might be a gender thing). We loved the properly choreographed numbers, the clear themes, and the contrast between the show and everything happening backstage.
And while we weren’t necessarily fans of Sammy, we really enjoyed Newley’s performance and the character’s ingenuity in trying to raise the money. We watched this as a double feature with Bitter Harvest, and to us, this reads a bit like an alternate reality version of that (which we’ll come to in a few days) with Patsy as a less driven and less autonomous Jennie. But we’ll explore this further in the next blog post.
What we learned: What a compère is. And also, don’t gamble. Although we already knew that.
Colin Smith (Courtenay), a working class boy with anger issues, is sent to a borstal school (or reform school for those of us not in the know) for burgling a bakery. Once there, he is sorted into Drake House in a ritual we found disappointingly lacking in hats.
The school’s philosophy is that hard work, discipline, and exercise will put these young men on the right track in life. During training, the governor of the school (Redgrave) observes Colin’s brilliant running skills and takes a special interest in his new pupil.
Colin is given special permission to train outside the school’s fence for an upcoming race against a public school (or private school for those of us not in Britain), and in between training sessions, we get flashbacks to his life before this and the circumstances which led him to this point.
Like many of the old dramas we’ve watched in the past few years, we enjoyed this movie so much more than we thought we would. We loved the flashbacks, the smart-ass remarks of our (anti-)hero, Colin’s singular running style, and the clash of cultures in the changing rooms before the race.
At first, the governor seemed like quite a good guy, but we soon realised that this was mainly due to what we have dubbed the “Michael Redgrave-effect,” in which a character become instantly likable because the actor playing him/her just exudes kindness and benevolence. (See also: The Innocents, in which Redgrave plays the uncle who basically abandons his young relatives and sends a youngish governess in without warning her about the circumstances, but you still go “oh, what a charming chap! I’m sure he had his reasons!”)
Without spoiling it too much (although light spoilers ahead), the ending was the sort of ending which would have very much appealed to our teenage, rebellious selves and which frustrates our old, security-concerned selves. This was your chance, kid! But also: yeah! Stick it to the man!
Jack Barrett (McEnery) is on the run from the cops and desperately tries to contact several friends for help, all of whom turn him down and sends him on his way. When the police finally catches up with him, we learn that he is a victim of blackmail and Detective Inspector Harris (Barrie) correctly deduces the reason: Barrett is gay.
When Barrett kills himself in his jail cell, one of the people who turned him away feels guilty. Successful barrister Melville Farr (Bogarde), a once close friend of the dead man (some might say too close), decides to find out the truth behind Barrett’s indirect murder and bring his blackmailer to justice.
There is just one problem. Farr is a respected member of society with a successful career and a lovely wife, Laura (Syms), both of which he stands to lose if he pursues his hunt. This does not deter him, and his investigation makes him vulnerable to scrutiny from a society in which homosexuality is not only frowned upon but illegal.
Victim really took us by surprise, as we were not familiar with it before it was added to the list. A movie which explores homosexuality and demonizes the society which condemns them rather than the gay men themselves? From 1961? We were very pleasantly surprised indeed!
It’s in many ways a very quiet movie, with little score, but it still packs a punch. We liked the Detective Inspector who seemed very sympathetic to the blackmail victims’ plight, all the people giving speeches about the ill-treatment of homosexuals and the fact that everyone treated Barrett’s suicide as a murder. It’s sad, outrageous and extremely engaging, and it must have been very controversial upon its release six years before homosexuality was legalized in Britain. And it’s definitely still worth seeing.
What we learned: It’s incredible to think that people can be considered criminals because of who they are as opposed to what they do… And it’s even more incredible to think that this hasn’t changed – only the groups targeted have (and not even that in a lot of places).