#266 The Hill

Watched: April 5 2019

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Ossie Davis, Ian Hendry, Alfred Lynch, Roy Kinnear, Jack Watson, Michael Redgrave, Norman Bird

Year: 1965

Runtime: 2h 3min

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Hey kids! Are you stuck at home? Feeling increasingly bored, frustrated and lonely? Longing for society to return to normal? Well then, have we got the perfect uplifting movie for you!

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“All right boys! Ready to make a comedic romp reminiscent of M*A*S*H? (which curiously hasn’t been produced yet, but I’ll still reference it because that’s the sort of oddball character I am!)”

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The Hill has it all: sadism, inhumanity, madness, cruelty, injustice and an overhanging sense of impending doom.

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Oh, but there’s young, sexy Sean Connery, so it’s got that going for it which is nice.

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Sure, it might leave you depressed and disillusioned, but it could also put your own situation into perspective.

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Pro tip: if you pay attention to the background, you’ll get a bunch of good ideas for home workouts you can do while socially distancing. You’ll also feel very sorry for the poor extras…

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Seriously though, The Hill is horrible and great and disturbing. It’s one of those movies we would never watch again (too frustrating!) but that we’re very grateful we’ve seen. And we’ll never stop encouraging others to watch it (although we’re not really selling it, are we..?). You can feel, smell and taste it. It is extremely intense, but worth watching, if only just once.

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If you’re looking for horrible characters to direct your hatred and frustrations towards, then look no further! We’ve got you covered.

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What we learned: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Also, no one wins…

Next time: The Ipcress File (1965)

#216 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Watched: January 05 2019

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Avis Bunnage, Alec McCowen, James Bolam, Topsy Jane

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 44min

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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.

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Face says Slytherin. Actions say Gryffindor. Absolutely nothing says Ravenclaw…

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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.

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By “brilliant running skills” we refer to his speed and endurance. Not running style.

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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.

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Before his arrest, he led a happy, fulfilling life, filled with laughter and friends

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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.

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This innocent, outgoing public school kid had no idea about the world he walked into. Or the Quasimodo-looking criminal following him.

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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!”)

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It is basically impossible to dislike a pipe smoker

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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!

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We’re so torn…

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What we learned: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. But also don’t let your own stubbornness deprive you of a chance to make a better life for yourself. Man, we’re confused on this one…

Next time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

#208 The Innocents

Watched: November 7 2018

Director: Jack Clayton

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Michael Redgrave, Megs Jenkins, Peter Wyngarde

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 40min

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When Sister the Oldest was young, she watched a lot of movies which were somewhat age-inappropriate. Child’s Play (1988) abruptly ended her doll playing career around 1990. Early exposure to Predator (1987) and Blue Velvet (1986) brought on a fear of invisible monsters leaving cut-off ears lying around willy nilly (the two movies may have been a bit muddled up in her young brain), though she found Terminator 2 (1991) more sad than scary. And then there was The Innocents

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Deborah Kerr looking for Miles in a flowing nightgown with a candelabra will forever haunt her dreams

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Like many of the others, this was partially watched on a friend’s TV one night  – our own parents were quite strict about what was appropriate viewing for kids – and it messed Sister the Oldest up quite a bit. However, November of this year was the first time she’d seen it since, and it still holds up as a creepy Gothic tale of ghosts and/or madness.

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It helps that the 1961 winner of Britain’s Creepiest Kid Award stars in it

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Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (which we’ve actually read, being the cultured, sophisticated people that we are), the film tells the story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), who is sent to the British countryside as a governess to two young orphans, Miles (Stephens) and Flora (Franklin).

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As well as being a charming little doll, Flora possesses the strange ability to keep both the background and the foreground in focus. An unusual gift for so small a child.

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Giddens initially finds her two young wards utterly charming, and the estate beautiful. But as she starts to investigate what happened to the last governess and her dangerous lover, the children’s behaviour begins to worry her, and the rot underneath the beauty of the place starts to come up to the surface. Are the kids being haunted? Possessed? Are they playing games with her? Or is she slowly going insane in the isolated estate?

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It’s hard to decide what the truth is, but the crazy-eyes of Giddens might be a hint

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As stated, The Innocents has held up incredibly well. It’s a very faithful adaptation of James’ novella and the disturbing atmosphere of the original is very much present in the film version. The kids are perfectly cast, as is Deborah Kerr, and the estate is lovely and Gothic.

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Well done for finding not just one but two ghosty, floaty see-through children! They’re hard to come by.

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We loved the wholly impractical costumes (how were people supposed to do anything wearing something like that?) and the way everything in the shot was in focus at once (deep focus..? We’re not really down with the terminology of cinematography..), which made it feel unsettling and “wrong.” There’s very little score in the movie and it’s rather quiet most of the time, which works well to emphasise the atmosphere. Also, we loved the ambiguity of the ending…

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Ghosts or not, we’ve learned that cute children are inherently terrifying

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What we learned: One need not be a chamber to be haunted. Or mad. One need not be a chamber to be mad either.

Next time: Victim (1961)

#69 Dead of Night

Watched: December 18 2016

Director: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Michael Redgrave, Basil Radford

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Dead of Night is the first of the horror anthology films on the list, and a good start to this scary and brilliant subgenre.

Architect Walter Craig (Johns) comes to look at a house he has been approached to alter or expand, and experiences a very strong case of déjà vu. It turns out he has had recurring dreams about the house and all the people who are currently there, but he cannot recall the ending of the dream, just that it is not a happy one.

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What horrible fate could possibly befall these respectable looking people? Stay tuned to find out!

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As Craig is trying to remember the details of his dream, the other guests take turns telling of their own experiences with the supernatural or uncanny. You know, to lighten the mood. The stories vary in length and seriousness, but some of them are very unsettling indeed.

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Ventriloquist-centred plots will always creep us out

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Among the guests’ tales we find a creepy ghost story involving children and murder (always a good combination) as well as a game of Sardines; a race car driver who’s saved from certain (?) death several times by the appearance of a strange man; a scary haunted mirror (a subject which we always find unnerving – childhood literature trauma might be to blame); a silly, silly ghost story involving two very competitive (and self-centered) golfers and the girl they’re both in love with (who by the way has no personality of her own and somehow agrees to marry whoever wins a golf game… Have some self respect, lady!); as well as the aforementioned ventriloquist tale starring Michael Redgrave of The Lady Vanishes-fame.

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Other nightmare fuel is also available for those not particularly freaked out by dummies

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Four different directors helmed the various segments, and they vary a lot in tone and style, with Cavalcanti’s two segments our personal favourites. We’re both partial to horror anthologies, and we cannot wait for the upcoming ones, such as #230 Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), #359 Asylum (1972), #367 Tales From the Crypt (1972), #553 Creepshow (1982) and #582 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) to name but a few (numbers are liable to change as Mr Wright tends to alter his list now and then..). If you’re one of us (one of us!) we heartily recommend Dead of Night. Its circular plot is interesting, there are great performances, some good comic relief and it is genuinely scary at times. And we do eventually find out the ending of Craig’s nightmare… A new favourite for sure.

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Just make sure you NEVER buy an antique mirror. Trust us.

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What we learned: stay the fuck away from ventriloquist dummies! (Unless it’s the one from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who’s quite naughty but not really evil.)

Next time: Detour (1945)

#46 The Lady Vanishes

Watched: September 17 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 36min

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In a remote European town, a train is delayed due to an avalanche. A random assortment of tourists are forced to spend the night in a hotel and interact with each other. We meet a gang of young women, one of whom is on her way home to England to get married; some cricket obsessed Brits, a judge and his mistress, an arrogant musician and an old retired governess.

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The nun comes later.

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After the (undiscovered) murder of a busker in the night, the tourists are sent on their merry way the next day. Iris Henderson (Lockwood), the lady about to be married, shares a compartment with Miss Froy (Whitty), the retired governess, and they spend the first part of the train ride in each other’s company. However, after a nap (brought on by a mild concussion from a mysterious accident at the train station), Iris wakes up to the old lady having vanished. In addition, everyone in her compartment denies her ever having been there, saying she must be a figment of Iris’ imagination (or brain injury). Cue mystery!

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“An old lady? We’ve never seen anything of the sort. And why would we lie? We’re not at all sinister foreign types in a xenophobic Europe!”

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Iris teams up with Gilbert (Redgrave), the annoying musician she had a less than pleasant run-in with the previous night and together they start investigating the missing lady, with the occasional help from fellow passenger Dr. Hartz (Lukas). Naturally, things are more complex than they seem at first, and the plot, as they say, thickens.

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“So, let me get this straight: the old lady vanishes, then she reappears but it’s not the same lady, then there’s a severe Italian lady who lies about it, then a judge and his mistress who also lie, as do a couple of Brits because of a cricket match and then there’s a creepy nun..?” “Yes. And there’s also an escape artist. But he escapes.” “I see… Makes prefect sense!”

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This is a good old-fashioned mystery film with intrigue, espionage and international politics (which was important in 1938 as you can imagine). There’s also romance, humour and a wonderful cast of characters, and there’s an action packed shootout towards the end (always fun!). Hitchcock films are always interesting to watch, both due to the contents as well as beautiful and inventive shots. We love and cherish it!

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Also, the lady is adorable!

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What we learned: There’s always a conspiracy.

Next time: The Roaring Twenties (1939)