Hopscotch (1980)

US / 105 minutes / color / International Film Investors, Sham, Connelly, AVCO Embassy Dir: Ronald Neame Pr: Edie Landau, Ely Landau Scr: Brian Garfield, Bryan Forbes Story: Hopscotch (1975) by Brian Garfield Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Herbert Lom, Ned Beatty, David Matthau, George Baker, Ivor Roberts, Lucy Saroyan, Severn Darden, George Pravda, Jacquelyn Hyde, Mike Gwilym, Douglas Dirkson, Allan Cuthbertson, Ann Haney.

Hopscotch (1975) is widely regarded as one of the best novels by the incredibly talented Brian Garfield, who died at the end of December 2018, aged 79. The screen adaptation of that novel, even though co-written by Garfield, is a rather more light-hearted affair than its print original, although it shares very much the same plot (a notable difference is that the character of Isobel von Schönenburg is new) and the same fascination for the way one man’s twisted ingenuity can outwit the efforts of powerful but unimaginative institutions, no matter the resources they can bring to bear against him. It is, in short, a Trickster story, to use the terminology created by my old friend and colleague John Clute for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

Walter Matthau as Kendig.

After a successful operation in Munich, CIA veteran Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) is berated by his self-important, blustering pig of a boss G.P. Myerson (Beatty) for not having taken the chance to bring in or eliminate Mikhail Yaskov (Lom), head of the KGB in Western Europe. Ignoring the valid reasons for Kendig having decided as he did, Myerson demotes him to a desk job.

Glenda Jackson as Isobel.

So Kendig walks away from the agency, without so much as a goodbye, to join his old flame Isobel von Schönenburg (Jackson) in Salzburg. There, following a jokey suggestion of hers, he begins to write his tell-all memoirs, mailing the manuscript one chapter at a time to Continue reading

Journey into Fear (1975)

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An all-star cast in an Eric Ambler adaptation!
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vt Burn Out
Canada / 95 minutes / color / New World, IFD Dir: Daniel Mann Pr & Scr: Trevor Wallace Story: Journey into Fear (1940) by Eric Ambler Cine: Harry Waxman Cast: Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel, Yvette Mimieux, Scott Marlowe, Ian McShane, Joseph Wiseman, Shelley Winters, Stanley Holloway, Donald Pleasence, Vincent Price, Alicia Ammon, Michael Collins.

journey-into-fear-1975-closer

Ambler’s novel was earlier and far more famously filmed as Journey into Fear (1943) dir Norman Foster (plus uncredited directorial assistance from Orson Welles), with Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Orson Welles, Ruth Warrick, Jack Moss and Agnes Moorehead. (Also, in 1956 the TV series Climax! made an hour-long episode out of the novel, and in 1966 a single episode was produced, “Seller’s Market,” of an intended TV series, Journey into Fear, using the character of Dr. Howard Graham and some of the novel’s ideas.)

This 1975 remake shifts the time to the present—i.e., the mid-1970s—and now, rather than an engineer who’s learned Nazi armaments secrets, our hero, Howard Graham (Waterston), is a geologist who’s discovered, somewhere in the mountains neat the Turkey/Iran border, something (it’s never specified what) of use to oil companies. For some reason this makes him a target for international terrorists.

We first meet him as he and his driver are careering down a mountain dirt-track, their brakes having failed (we assume they’ve been cut). The driver shoves Howard out of the vehicle and moments later flies off a cliff.

Howard makes his way to civilization, where he catches a train to Istanbul. Aboard that train there’s another attempt to kill him. Two men in the guise of Greek Orthodox priests spot where he’s sitting, sneak into the next compartment Continue reading

A Quartet of Shorties

Although I’ve been charged with including too many borderline noirs in the Encyclopedia  (odd for an encyclopedia to be accused of encompassing too much rather than too little!), in fact quite a few of the entries I wrote I decided later to reject. Some of those then got stuck back in again. In the absence of the usual collegial team you expect to be able to draw on when constructing an encyclopedia of this size, I had to be, as it were, my own collegiate: I conducted many internal debates over what to keep in and what to kick out, and often there were second thoughts.

The entries here on Noirish are in general far longer than I had space for in the encyclopedia. Here, just for interest, are my original entries for a few movies that got thrown out and stayed out; all the entries are very short because, of course, I already regarded the movies as borderline. That’s not to say these movies, especially The Velvet Touch, may not get fuller coverage here in due course.

The movies concerned are:

Sweet Revenge (1976; vt Dandy, the All American Girl)

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

The Unsaid (2001)

The Velvet Touch (1948)

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Sweet Revenge (1976)

vt Dandy, the All American Girl

US / 89 minutes / color / MGM Dir & Pr: Jerry Schatzberg Scr: Marilyn Goldin, B.J. Perla, Jor [sic] Van Kline Story: B.J. Perla Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond Cast: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock.

Vurrla Kowsky (Channing) is a career car thief whose primary motive is to make enough money to buy herself a Ferrari. Lawyer Le Clerq (Waterston) believes he’s saving her from herself, but so do the other men in her life and she’s running rings round all of them. Although the movie’s determinedly comedic, its portrayal of the addiction that auto theft can become is (reportedly) very authentic.

On Amazon.com: Sweet Revenge

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alexander Hall Pr: William Perlberg Scr: Gladys Lehman Based on: story by Wilson Collison Cine: Henry Freulich Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Rita Hayworth (uncredited).

Of strictly ancillary interest, There’s Always a Woman (1938) was intended by Columbia as first in a series to rival The THIN MAN. Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas star as husband-and-wife sleuths solving a society crime, she trying—and succeeding despite her husband’s sexism—to be a PI, while he acts for the DA’s office. It’s easy to see why the series never took off: while Blondell does wonders for an ordinary script, Douglas is insipid and, among the rest, only an uncredited Tom Dugan as a knucklehead cop stands out.

On Amazon.com: There’s Always a Woman (currently unavailable, but with luck might return soon)

Unsaid, The (2001)

Canada, US / 111 minutes / color / New Legend, Mind’s Eye, CineSon, Eagle Dir: Tom McLoughlin Pr: Tom Berry, Matt Hastings, Kelley Reynolds Scr: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Scott Williams Story: Christopher Murphey Cine: Lloyd Ahern II Cast: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Chelsea Field, Teri Polo, Sam Bottoms, Trevor Blumas.

Psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) treats troubled teenager Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) while haunted by memories of his own teenaged son’s suicide. The son, Kyle (Blumas), killed himself after sexual abuse by a therapist; Tommy was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother and then saw his father, Joseph (Bottoms), beat her to death. When Tommy hooks up with Michael’s daughter Shelly (Cardellini) he learns from her which of Michael’s buttons to press in order to exploit the similarities between the two cases. A trite ending undermines an otherwise interesting, thought-provoking piece.

On Amazon.com: The Unsaid

Velvet Touch, The (1948)

US / 97 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Gage Pr: Frederick Brisson Scr: Leo Rosten, Walter Reilly Story: Annabel Ross Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Genn, Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames.

Broadway comedienne Valerie Stanton (Russell), during a tussle with producer and dumped lover Gordon Dunning (Ames)—over her desire to take the lead in a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and over her new boyfriend, Michael Morrell (Genn)—hits him with a statuette and inadvertently kills him; the body’s discovered by fellow-actress Marian Webster (Trevor). While the latter’s hospitalized with shock, cop Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) concludes Marian must be the killer, ignoring Valerie as even a suspect; she has, unwittingly, committed the perfect crime. A witty screenplay and fine performances raise this mystery above the average level of the pack.

On Amazon.com: The Velvet Touch [VHS] and The Velvet Touch [Region 2]