Hamish Downie has a new type of column that started backing December as his Holiday playlist. It was so popular that he decided to make it a monthly recurring column with a movie playlist for each month. Thanks, Hamish for creating a new concept for TG Geeks.
If you have seen any of these films, let us know your thoughts.
This month, for Mother’s Day, I present to you four films with incredible performances by actresses. Three huge films, and one forgotten masterpiece.
Death on the Nile (1978)
Based on Agatha Christie’s classic novel, this mystery was recently given the big budget all-star treatment by Kenneth Branagh. But, if you are like me, and struggle to have interest in a film with a certain actor present, you might prefer the original. Peter Ustinov, who for many is the quintessential Poirot, is back after the success of “Murder on the Orient Express”. He is surrounded by the likes of Mia Farrow, Jessica Fletcher aka Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, David Niven and the location of the Nile itself. Despite all of this, Angela Lansbury manages to steal the show with a scenery-chewing scene stealing performance. Bette Davis wasn’t amused, apparently, but she managed to get in some key zingers herself, and her chemistry with Dame Maggie Smith is worth the price of admission alone. The mystery itself is a good one, and there is a point where literally anyone could have done it. I did manage to figure out who had done it about three quarters of the way through, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment. This is about the best in the business doing exactly what they do best. And, while I can’t put my finger on it, there is a touch of the same sense of adventure from the contemporaneous films, “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Plus, the fashions are amazing.
Interview with Angela Lansbury, which is must see, if you enjoy the particular talents of a certain generation of women to say a lot between the lines:
The Whales of August (1987)
Two of the grand dames of cinema history face off in “The Whales of August”. But, this is no Baby Jane. Lillian Gish (perhaps the first Movie Star) and Bette Davis play widowed sisters who are spending the summer by the sea. And they could not be more opposite in nature. One positive, and the other, negative. A handsome and mysterious Widower (Vincent Price) comes into the picture and brings back memories for the two sisters. Nobody is serving rat for dinner in this film. It’s all about love. And it is a marvelous swan song for Lillian Gish, and could have been for Bette Davis except that she made one final film, which wasn’t the best. Still, for a quiet Sunday afternoon, this is the perfect film.
Shanghai Express (1932)
Last month, I gave you “Morocco”, and this month I give you “Shanghai Express” where a notorious woman, Shanghai Lily, (Marlene Dietrich) rides a train through a dangerous situation with a British captain she loved. This is a pre-code film, so while it doesn’t say anything explicitly, or show anything explicitly, this film has a very modern feel. A group of people take a train from Beijing to Shanghai during the Chinese Civil war. There’s no guarantee that the train will make it. Anna Mae Wong, without too many lines of dialogue shows her silent film training by stealing the picture with her eyes and her actions. Wong should have been in more films. Like Dorothy Dandridge, she was both a pioneer, and born in the wrong time. This is a very enjoyable film, and a surprisingly deep film.
The Small Back Room aka Hour of Glory (1949)
Why do some films, despite being a masterpiece, get forgotten? And yet others, universally panned as the worst films ever made, are remembered for generations? “The Small Back Room” is the former. It reunites David Farrar and Kathleen Byron (both of “Black Narcissus” fame), who prove themselves as actors by playing very different people than they did in their previous film. “The Small Back Room” is about a secret government department of scientists tasked with figuring out how to defeat a new bomb the Germans have developed and deployed. And the only man who can do it must fight both mental and physical handicaps to achieve this aim, and hold on to the woman he loves. While that may not sound like James Bond to you, watching this film made me think that David Farrar could have been an excellent James Bond. This film is a tense thriller, a love story, and a character-driven action drama. It’s a masterpiece. Please seek it out however you can.