Only one American film this time, and yes, that’s two Bollywood films. Which I can blame on the vagaries of the DVD rental services. Not that I didn’t enjoy them – in fact, the Guru Dutt was really good.
Robot Overlords, Jon Wright (2014, UK). Robots have conquered Earth, although they insist it’s only tempoerary while they learn everything there is learnt about humanity. Meanwhile, everyone has an implant fitted in their neck and is nofined to their home – except for a volunteer force, who collaborate with the robots. Robot Overlords centres on a young boy whose RAF father went missing shortly after the invasion. Meanwhile, local volunteer force leader Ben Kingsley has designs on his mother, Gillian Anderson. But then the kids accidentally discover how to disable their implants… and that gets them involved with the local black market (although what they’re trading is a mystery, as no one appears to work anymore), as well as bringing them to the attention of the robots. Who, it turns out, in a completely non-surprise turn, have no intention of going and leaving Earth to carry on as before. The boy’s brother discovers he has a mysterious ability to control the robots, which sort of comes from nowhere. They find the father, hiding out with others in a tine mine, and there’s a Spitfire – WTF – which they use to dogfight the robots. Despite being a polished production, Robot Overlords is a story that probably seemed much better on paper than it actually is. The film only took £4,000 on its opening weekend and, distribution aside, it’s not hard to see why: it’s not very good.
Milano Calibro 9, Fernando Di Leo (1972, Italy). This is a pretty ordinary Italian thriller, except it has a great soundtrack – partly provided by Italian prog rock group Osanna. And it’s obvious right from the opening credits. A gangster is released from prison after serving three years. Everyone thinks he stole $300,000 from his old mob boss, the American (bizarrely renamed the Mikado in a dubbed version). He tries to convince them he doesn’t have themoney and he plans to go straight – but the police don’t belive him, the American doesn’t believe him, his over-acting nutjob ex-partner Rocco doesn’t believe him, and his girlfriend doesn’t believe him. Meanwhile, Rocco and the American are cleaning house by having couriers they suspect of theft actually pick up parcel bombs. And there’s a friend of the gangster who’s a hitman, and the American’s suspicion descend on him… which totally backfires. A pretty solid Italian thriller, very seventies, and with a great soundtrack. Worth seeing.
Brideshead Revisited (1981, UK). Even now thirty-five years later, Brideshead Revisited is still remembeed as a notable British televisual event. It was a first in many respects, and proved far more successful than its makers had ever expected. Looking back on it from the twenty-first century. it’s not especially easy to understand why it proved such a landmark. Television has changed so much in the decades in between. Of course, a lot of the appeal rests on the source material, and Brideshead Revisited is generally reckoned to be Evelyn Waugh’s best work – and Waugh was a highly-regarded novelist for much of the twentieth century. The adaptation makes a good fist of presenting the time during which it’s set – it opens during WWII, then leaps back to the late 1920s, and the Oxbridge days of Charles Rider (Jeremy Irons) and Lord Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews), before continuing on through the 1930s. Waugh was a horrible snob, and desperate to be accepted by the upper classes – and that’s pretty much what drives Brideshead Revisited. Which makes it even more surprising a hit. There’s that baffling British love of tales of upper class life from the early decades of the twentieth century, of course. But Brideshead Revisited did have a top-notch cast; and Waugh’s novel handled some weighty themes, which made it more or less intact into the adaptation. Having said all that, the Marchmains, indeed much of the cast, are pretty hard to care about. Waugh’s longing to be seen as an equal by people like the Marchmains is plain throughout, and that only makes the whole even less easy to like. And yet… I did equite enjoy it. I just thought it was about a horrible bunch of people, and I was pretty indifferent to their fate.
Hum dil de chuke sanam, Sanjay Leela Bansali (1999, India). A singer travels from Italy to India because he wants to learn at the feet of a master of Indian classical music. The master’s daughter is Aishwarya Rai. The singer and Rai initially take a dislike to each other – she chiefly because he has taken her room in the, well, it’s more of a palace than a house. Over several musical numbers, they fall in love. But her parents have arranged her marriage to the unmusical lawyer Vanraj. When the two lovers are discovered canoodling, the master sends away his student. Rai is married to Vanjay, but she is not happy. Eventually, Vanraj decides to reunite Rai with her Italian lover (actually, he’s Indian, although lives in Italy and has an Italian surname). So he takes her to Italy – well, to Budapest, which plays the part of Rome, Hungarian hoardings and street signs notwithstanding. But finding the boyfriend is not so easy, and during the course of their search Rai comes to realise she actually loves Vanraj. So when they do find the elusive singer, she tells him that she came looking for him but now she wants to stay with her husband. This is a Bollywood film, so there’s lots of musical numbers – and some of them are big. Huge, like stage shows. Even for a Bollywood film, Hum dil de chuke sanam felt somewhat OTT (although, to be fair, I’m hardly an expert as I’ve only see about half a dozen). It starts slow, but it definitely builds up steam; and by the time it was all over I could understand why it had proven so successful.
It Should Happen to You!, George Cukor (1954, USA). I’m not sure why added this to my rental list, probably because I’ve enjoyed some Cukor movies and I do like me some 1950s rom com… Unfortunately, this one was a bit of damp squib. Although not originally written for Judy Holliday, it felt like a vehicle for her. She plays Gladys Glover, who moved to New York to make it but has so far failed to do so. So she spends her savings on a billboard on Columbus Circle – with her name in ten-foot high letters. However, that billboard is normally taken by the Adams Soap Company for their spring promotion. They contact Holliday, but she won’t give it up. They do her a deal – six billboards scattered around New York. She becomes a household name, Adams use her as a model, and so she makes it big. Meanwhile, Jack Lemmon (in his first role), who met her in Central Park right at the beginning and then was a bit stalkery, realises he can’t compete with playboy head of Adams Soap (Peter Lawford), so bows out. But Holliday realises she really loves him. There was some good footage of 1950s New York, but Holliday seemed a bit too laconic for the part she played, and the rags-to-riches tale felt a bit too well-worn.
Pyaasa, Guru Dutt (1957, India). Producer, director and star Dutt plays a poet who can’t get published. He bumps into an ex-girlfriend from his school days who is now married to a big-shot publisher. The publisher hires Dutt as a servant and mostreats him, but then a beggar who dies under a train is mistaken for Dutt… and Dutt’s poetry becomes a posthumous success. His two brothers argue over the money his work now earns, and when Dutt reappears they refuse to recognise him. Eventually they see the error of their ways, but by then Dutt has had enough and walks away. I tweeted that this film “has been restored from vintage source for nostalgic appeal”, as per an on-screen notice in the opening credits. And certainly the transfer quality of the black and white print was not great (by comparison, Mother India – see here – released in the same year – was filmed in colour and a much better quality transfer). Despite all that, Pyaasa was probably the most interesting Bollywood film I’ve seen so far – in fact, I want to see more of Dutt’s movies. It wasn’t just that Dutt played a good part, but that the film seemed to address more interesting themes than your average Bollywood film, and appeared to be more of a drama than a melodrama. It still had songs and dance numbers in it, though.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 761