Buy the paperback or eBook online at Amazon before 1 Feb. Then go to my Facebook page and post a selfie of you with the book and the title “I bought December Radio” (or message me on your Instagram or twitter page – my social links are on the right margin of this page). Or Email a copy of the receipt: email@example.com. Don’t forget to include your choice of reward.
What more can be said of Tom Cruise in sci-fi roles? He always seems to deliver, so I was expecting something a bit special when I sat down to watch Oblivion last week.
Things were looking good after half an hour; great sets, great scenery and great special effects. Cruise was, as usual, dry in his delivery of Jack’s lines and held my attention.
But then I noticed something odd; Andrea Risborough, as Jack’s girlfriend and teammate Victoria, was acting badly. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, she must be an android and this will all be explained properly later,’ but no, the further into the movie I got, the more it became apparent that Victoria was human, and therefore badly portrayed. I am not saying Risborough can’t act, but she must have been at least badly cast here. It makes all the scenes with Cruise wooden and the love-making scene was just embarrassing.
But then along comes Olga Kurylenko. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you what relationship she has with Jack, but her acting is convincing and the story began to take off.
Morgan Freeman then put in an appearance. His flying googles, stubbly beard and short, white hair worked very well, allowing him to bring a new level to the film in a very convincing way.
Little touches, like the Led Zeppelin song Ramble On, were nice. In general the soundtrack worked very well and the tempo of the film increased nicely.
The sets of sunken landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge were a bit cliched. Such things have become overused in sci-fi movies since the original Planet of the Apes, but I didn’t mind too much.
The main twist of the movie only began to dawn on me in the second half of the movie, which may not be a bad thing, and then I was further confused by the appearance of Cruise’s double. Being confused is something I expect to feel during a good sci-fi movie so all was good.
The climax of the movie is a sacrificial scene and it worked very well; the music suited and the action was muted, but poignant. I was convinced and felt my time had been well-spent.
Do not read on if you want to watch the movie and don’t want to know the ending.
Ready to turn the TV off, I saw what I hoped was the postscript scene with Olga Kurylenko. I thought, ‘Ah! Now we will see that there is a child and she is happy and they both lived happily ever after.’ Jack’s rebel mates then appeared and – horror of horrors – Jack himself! My mind was double-taking and reeling with the stupidity of a director who had just delivered a decent sci-fi movie.
We then find out that Jack has survived, sort of. I turned the TV off in disgust.
Why, oh why, do Hollywood producers insist on happy endings? And why, oh why, do directors go along with it? This was a very decent movie without the final scene. I can just see the producers saying, “No, we can’t have the take-home message that Jack has killed himself to save Earth. It must be that Cruise heroes always survive, no matter what!”
God help us if there is a post-generation-X bunch of kids who believe any of this tripe!
Four stars for everything except the last 5 minutes. A molten asteroid for that bit!
It’s been an interesting vote. Obviously more people have seen Jupiter Ascending than I thought! And I am obviously not the only one who thinks The Hobbit Trilogy is bad. So here we go with the top 3:
Tying in 1st Place with 5 Votes: Jupiter Ascending
There is not a lot of trivia I can give about this film but here goes! The Wachowski siblings second film that Natalie Portman dropped out of, following Cloud Atlas (2012).
And also in 1st Place, with 5 Votes: The Hobbit Trilogy
Daniel Radcliffe, Shia LaBeouf, James McAvoy, Ethan Arkin and Tobey Maguire were considered for the role of Bilbo Baggins. However, Peter Jackson has said that his first choice was always Martin Freeman. Freeman was initially unable to accept the role, due to scheduling conflicts with Sherlock (2010), but Jackson reworked the entire shooting schedule for the Hobbit films to accommodate him.
The elk that Thranduil (Lee Pace) rides on is played by a horse, named Moose.
The first roar we hear from Smaug in the first scene of Smaug’s attack on Erebor is actually a sound-bite of the SFX Director’s 7 year old daughter “roaring”. It was manipulated and corrected to sound like a dragon and was put in the movie
Tying in 2nd Place, with 4 Votes: Basic Instinct 2
Robert Downey Jr. was set to star but had to drop out when he was charged with drug possession. Kurt Russell was attached at some point but bailed out because he felt uncomfortable with the nudity. Pierce Brosnan refused to play the male lead role because of distasteful elements. Bruce Greenwood was set to star but dropped out because he hadn’t been signed on yet and feared the actors strike. Benjamin Bratt was banned by Sharon Stone for not being a good actor.
Is notoriously known as being the first and so far only theatrically released followup to a box-office hit that did not even earn $10 million in the U.S. box-office.
And also in 2nd Place, with 4 Votes: Another 9 1/2 Weeks
I couldn’t find ANY trivia for this film so here is a 10-star review instead!
I think there’s two kind of males. One of them is the sexually overheated and uninhibited, first-sex-then-romance(or nothing) type, and the other one, who prefers the romantic involvement in its classic sense. First get to know, then trying to trust and to love. John Gray is the two kind in one. And Mickey Rourke makes a good job. This movie is not the rehearse of the first one, and OK, not as good too, but I think it shows the second kind of male. (9 out of 10) I would like to recommend The Casanova’s Return (1992). Alain Delon’s character shows great similarity to John Gray in Love in Paris.
I could go on and list the 2 films that tied for 3rd place, and the 2 films that tied for 4th place but honestly, I think I would lose the will to live.
Don’t forget Attack Hitler’s Bunker! is still FREE until Wednesday at 8am GMT (midnight EST)!! http://bit.ly/amzattack
I just heard that David Bowie died. I saw Bowie during his Glass Spider tour in Milton Keynes. It was a great concert. He was as cool and impressive as I had expected. I also listened to some of the material from his new album. “How on earth he manages to go on being that creative, I will never know!” I thought. He had so much more he could have done. His loss is a very sad one to the British and World music scene. RIP David Bowie.
Okay all the nominations are in so its time to vote! Thank god there haven’t (so far) been any remakes of these movies!
The nominations are described in more detail 2 posts further down the page.
You have 6 votes per person. Please give 3 votes to your favourite (click the yellow ‘Vote’ button between each vote), 2 votes to your second favourite (click the yellow ‘Vote’ button between each vote) and 1 vote to your third favourite. Click ‘View Results’ if you want to see how the vote is going. Everyone should be able to vote, no matter what your browser.
Voting closes Sunday 10th January at midnight GMT.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without turkey and if indigestion hasn’t already set in, maybe there’s space for a bit more? What is your top nomination for movie Turkeys? It doesn’t have to be a Christmas movie but just one so bad that you either reach for the remote or fall asleep.
How to spot a Turkey Movie
Turkey movies can be hard to pick out: you often don’t remember their names or who’s in them. But of course if its a sequel or a remake it has a very good chance of being a Turkey! Some movies are so bad they are actually fun and good for a few laughs. These aren’t those movies.
Here are some of mine. Add yours, either by commenting or on Facebook or Twitter.
Breakthrough – 1979: This sequel to the iconic Cross of Iron had nothing to recommend it except Richard Burton so drunk he had to be carried onto the set every day.
The Hobbit Trilogy – 2012/13/14: Sorry if I just made you choke on your chockies or turkey but, as a lifelong fan of Tolkien books, I think this trilogy lacks the quaint charm of the original or the grandeur of Lord of the Rings. The director tried to stretch and I am afraid he broke it. I reserve opinion on the dragon one because so far I haven’t seen it! Virgin Media doesn’t have it and it seems to have escaped schedulers on TV although the others haven’t!
At the Earth’s Core – 1976: This beauty stars Doug McClure (remember Trampas from The Virginian?) and Peter Cushing. Its kind of like Journey to the Centre of the Earth but with props you can throw together from scrap at a film studio. The beasts (whose name escapes me!) are just people dressed up and the WORST SPECIAL EFFECT I have ever seen. Watch out for Cy Grant (who did the voice for Captain Scarlet), the lovely Caroline Munro and a young Keith Baron. Oh and in case you are wondering, the film is so bad its almost good, but Cushing’s bumbling professor is just too over the top to get this film off the hook. In some scenes you can almost see McClure thinking, “Are they actually going to release this?”
Alexander – 2004: Colin Farrel stars as Alexander the Great. I think he must have resented doing this film because he actually exaggerates his own Irish accent and the film just becomes absurd! Truly un-watchable.
The Man with the Iron Fists – 2012: I can only think they got Russell Crowe to do this by promising to make The Water Diviner. It has Asian orgies (including Crowe going down on a few girls!!!), martial arts, a kind of Iron Man think going and just about everything else. I stuck with it but it was clear it was just a vehicle for the rapper who starred in it. Set in the mid 19th Century??? possibly??? when the baddies came on wearing Ray Bans I was shouting at the screen “Nooooooo!”
Babylon A.D. – 2008: Well, what can I say except that I fell asleep after half an hour. I wouldn’t include it but for the fact I woke half hour before the end and the end was as bad as the beginning. Just boring!
Reunion in France – 1942: This monstrosity stars John Wayne as US pilot shot down over France and trying to escape with the help of a bourgeois woman. Forgetting that Wayne was far too old to play a front line pilot by then (and probably too tall!), he doesn’t bother to act, the sets are probably cardboard and the plot would be more appropriate in an Abbott and Costello film! Why on earth Wayne’s characters have to give the lead female a male nickname I dunno, but it kind of makes me queasy in this case (Michelle becomes Mike!).
Living Free – 1972: This sequel to Born Free probably ended up in the bins of cinemas faster than any other movie in that decade. Watch it if you dare!
The Silver Chalice – 1954: Paul Newman’s first starring role. If you can get beyond the first ten minutes, please call us or a doctor; you need medical attention.
The Secret Invasion – 1954: I wish I could say this was Stewart Grainger’s last movie. That would at least offer him some excuse but it wasn’t. If you wanted to make a war movie on the tightest budget possible, this would be one way. The only props are a few sub-machine guns. Dire! Dire! Dire!
The Battle of the Last Panzer – 1969: My third war movie looks promising but isn’t.
There are apparently some William Shatner films, made in Europe in the early 70s, that are so bad they will never see the like of day. If anybody has seen one, let me know!
Hope this didn’t give you indigestion! Let me have your nominations by commenting. Nominations end 3 January. Then we vote!
The 1966 movie, The Blue Max, stands out in my mind as the only movie I can think of without a hero.
I watched The Blue Max last week (okay I admit it, I have it on DVD). I am a huge fan of aviation films and this one is all about a German Air Force pilot in World War I. Skip the bits about aircraft if that is not your thing but that’s not the main point of this review.
Briefly, Bruno Stachel is an infantry corporal in the trenches. From a working class background, he nevertheless longs for the noble arena if death in the skies and enlists for the German Air Force. He proves a talented pilot but his new squadron of officers, enlisted from the ruling classes, do not accept his ambitious ruthlessness. They have a strict code of conduct, which he breaks in many ways, including bedding the top scoring Willi’s aunt and lover, the Countess Kaeti. Willi’s nobility, until now, has extended to taking Stachel under his wing but now the gloves are off and the two duel for supremacy in the skies and in bed.
Kaeti is herself ambitious and enjoys the titillation of bedding pilots whose lives are on the line. Her husband, the taciturn General Count von Klugermann, beautifully underplayed by James Mason, encourages her liaisons and appears to use her to control his aces. However, Kaeti overreaches herself with dire consequences.
Kaeti is played beautifully by Ursula Andress. If ever proof were needed that she really could act, and act superbly, this film is it. I have rarely seen a film in which you see a woman reaching adulthood in a single moment as poignantly as you do with Andress in the final scene.
Mason is of course excellent throughout, as is Jeremy Kemp as Willi, but its George Peppard’s part I want to focus on. Peppard is naturally morose and always has a sour look on his face so he must have been the natural choice for Stachel, whose ambition quickly becomes cruel in the face of the prejudice surrounding him. Peppard turns in a fine performance and thoroughly deserved his nomination for a Golden Laurel award. But it’s the director’s handling of the character that is astonishing, and in some ways perplexing.
I cannot think of another leading character in a movie that is less likable than Stachel. He is not even badass enough or gritty enough to be an anti-hero. He is over-ambitious, a liar and cheat, a traitor to just about anybody who gets close to him, probably ashamed of his parents although he denies it (probably another lie) and ultimately proved to be a fool by Kaeti. Indeed, it is she that claims she likes his ‘innocence’ but if she does, it can only be a foolishly ambitious innocence. Her naivety is found out at the end of the film but its not Stachel but von Klugermann who reveals it.
Apart from being a good pilot, Stachel has no redeeming features. Stachel’s good looks mean that bedding the gorgeous Kaeti is no achievement. How on earth then does the film hold together? It certainly does and its a masterpiece of tight direction and high tension action. Perhaps, because it was made at the height of the anti-war movement in America, the director simply wanted to make a heavily disguised anti-war film. He certainly succeeded there. All the main characters suffer terribly. But this still doesn’t explain how a ‘no hero’ film holds together so well. I tried to decided who is the hero in this film and there really isn’t one. You just have to watch it yourself and let me know what you think.
Another great vote this week; which is the best scifi vehicle of all time?
The choice is HUGE but below are just a few suggestions to get you started. Please nominate your favourites by commenting here or tweet me @Lazlo_F or message me on Facebook. The nomination deadline will be 22 June at 5pm. Then we will vote!
Ein weiterer großer Stimme in dieser Woche; Welches ist das beste SciFi Fahrzeug aller Zeiten?
Die Auswahl ist riesig Gewinn Hier sind nur ein paar Vorschläge, um Ihnen den Einstieg. Bitte benennen Sie Ihre Favoriten von hier zu kommentieren oder tweet ich Lazlo_F gold Nachricht auf mich Facebook. Der Nominierungsfrist wird am 22. Juni 17.00 Uhr sein. Dann werden wir abstimmen!
Un autre grand vote cette semaine; qui est le meilleur véhicule de scifi de tous les temps?
Le choix est énorme, mais ci-dessous sont quelques suggestions pour vous aider à démarrer. S’il vous plaît nommer vos favoris en commentant ici ou tweet moi Lazlo_F ou un message moi sur Facebook. La date limite de mise en candidature sera de 22 Juin à 17 heures. Ensuite, nous allons voter!
I woke up this morning wondering what to blog about and I decided the best post would be about the subject of my pondering at the moment; what makes a good hero?
Everyone (well, in the West anyway) will know who Marlon Brando is, possibly the greatest and certainly one of the greatest actors of all time. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in the recent Hobbit films.
I am as big a fan of Bilbo as anybody and nobody can deny Bilbo is the hero of The Hobbit. What is more, he is an ‘everyman.’ What that means is that everyone can identify with his situation because he is just a normal guy. Brando, on the other hand, rarely plays normal guys; from The Wild One to Superman and Apocalypse Now, nearly all his characters are superhuman or out-and-out rebels; men on the edge of society.
Here are my reviews of two of his films that I watched recently. After you have read these, I will ask the question again:
Marlon Brando in The Young Lions
I have been trying to view this 1958 film since my father watched it and recommended it, about ten years ago. He is not a huge fan of Brando and not one to recommend films very often so my interest was piqued. The film proved hard to find; a trip to Virgin and HMV in Oxford Street(at the time) produced nothing and not been able to stream it on-demand since. I tend to watch films when I am in the mood; one day a film might be just what I want, the next day what I definitely don’t want so ordering it from Amazon just wasn’t gonna work for me. A friend finally got it for me and so I was set.
The film starts promisingly enough with Brando, as Christian, a young German ski-instructor, wooing the delicious Hope Lange. But then we are ‘treated’ to nearly half an hour of very mundane acting by Dean Martin (only recently out of his partnership with Jerry Lewis) and a struggling Montgomery Clift. I have seen Clift acting well but for the first hour in this film, he is wooden or overwrought by turns. His tone is so misjudged, I found it hard to watch and Martin is of course not an actor of even Clift’s calibre.
I was beginning to lose hope that we would see Brando on form but he finally reappeared, now as an SS officer in Paris. He meets a friend who sets him up on a blind date with a French girl, whose husband has been killed by the Nazis. “Okay; fireworks! ” I hear you say and you’d be right, She throws the wine Brando just bought her in his face and Christian, with his oft-employed stoic look, listens to her rant without comment for what must be a couple of minutes of screen gold.
Of course he is so tolerant and charming that she has to forgive him in the end and they strike a flame together. Christian has to arrest a Jewish boy but reacts by refusing to make any more arrests and risks a firing squad when ge confronts his commanding officer.
“Ah this is the Brando we love!” I thought. “A rebel within the SS! What a gem!”
His commanding officer takes pity on Christian’s humanity and sends him on an errand to deliver a silk nightie to his own wife, back in Berlin. Brando is happy to get some leave and thus meets the gorgeous and Deitrich-like May Britt. With half-lidded eyes she tells him he can sleep on the couch and help himself to as much schnapps as he can hold while she beds a general.
Christian takes up her offer and later beds her but he doesn’t like her and nor does she care for him.
The strange relationship tension between Christian and his commander weaves a thread right through the film to near the end when Christian has to deliver another gift to Britt’s character in a ruined Berlin. This time, he can’t even find pity for her and takes out his pent up rage about the pointless war on her.
Of course Martin and Clift have parts which run parallel to Brando’s but while theirs is the simple story of all-american-boys making good in the war, albeit a Jewish underdog in the case of Clift, these only serve to highlight just how unusual and complex Brando’s part is. No doubt he worked hard to accentuate this but he hardly needed to; his acting alone lifts the film far beyond what it might otherwise be. He looks the part as the blonde-haired SS uber-soldier but of course he has a weakness in the eyes of his superiors – he is human.
The final scenes play out in, and around a liberated concentration camp. The film is poignant for the inclusion of Clift’s Jew liberating such a horror and Brando delivers a final scene that tops even that (as you would expect) and I am not giving it away.
All in all, well worth a watch if you like a war movie with a little Brando to spice it up! Oh and watch out for a very early performance from Lee van Cleef as a drill sergeant.
I watched this 1997 film simply because it is one of the few Brando movies I haven’t seen and it was available on Youtube. I didn’t expect too much from this, the only full-length Johnny Depp directed film to date, although it also has Johnny Depp in the lead role and a cameo from Brando so I expected to at least be competent.
I quickly realised that this film was so obscure and unloved by Hollywood that I could watch it free not because it was bad but because of the subject matter. It’s certainly not an uplifting movie and no doubt the distributors and marketing people had their heads in their hands on this one!
Depp plays a Mexican Indian who is struggling to support his small family on a reserve that essentially survives by recycling stuff from the municipal dump of white people. In and out of jail all his life, he is offered the chance to ‘star’ in a snuff movie for Brando’s McCarthy. He takes the job, knowing it will pay to rehouse his family and educate his children but later regrets it.
The scenes in the rubbish dump are harrowing; Depp’s family sleeping in a tiny caravan, surrounded by waste and his trips further and further up river to find clean water, which he collects in plastic pales hung from a yoke over his back, turned my stomach.
His life is so bad, you can almost understand why he takes up the snuff movie offer… almost … but not quite. When he visits McCarthy in a downtown warehouse he sees the iron torture chair he will be strapped into for the first time. I could barely watch from this point on. Depp underplays his role, playing the stoic American Indian brave trapped in a sick world by uttering very few words, instead using facial expressions silence to communicate his feelings of entrapment.
Brando is incredible! He rolls himself into the warehouse in a wheelchair, while playing a sad blues tune on a harmonica (for real; Brando was a highly accomplished musician, drummer and dancer) and proceeds to take apart the whole concept of death, to the point that he makes it almost sound like a higher-calling. Of course Depp’s character isn’t fooled but he takes the cash and McCarthy tells him to come back in a week.
“Why would you trust me to come back?” Depp asks him (I am paraphrasing here)
“I have a feeling for people; a sensitivity. A man, such as yourself, a man of spirit, is a man of honour.”
This movie is well-worth watching if you care at all about the struggle of some communities to overcome prejudice and inequality. It is heart-breaking to watch what one man has to contemplate in order to provide for his family. I am not very tolerant of pain myself and McCarthy’s answer; “It depends on how much you can take,” when Depp’s character asks him how much he will get, really made me squirm. I simply cannot put this film out of my mind. Of course if you are a person who likes to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, don’t watch this film. But don’t ever look behind you again.
That’s the reviews over. Now back to the question. I am thinking about my next book and it often helps me to think of a Hollywood actor when planning the main character’s role. Here I have got a bit stuck; I see a plot with an old-time Hollywood actor called William Holden. I guess in some ways you could say he is like Martin Freeman in that you probably wouldn’t pick say he was a flamboyant character or would stand out in a crowd.
The trouble is, I worry that such a book would not have a wide enough appeal because the character is not larger-than-life. I get the feeling big epic themes need big epic characters and I wonder if a Brando/Pacino/Russell Crowe type character would work better.
Which type of character do you like best? Let me know by commenting below or @Lazlo_F or on Facebook.
If you voted on the Best Robot in Scifi or are just passing by, below you will find the winner. Make sure to leave you comments; whether you agree or disagree.
Results of Best Robot in Scifi poll
1. Rachael – Blade Runner (Movie Blade Runner) played by Sean Young
2. R2D2 – (Movie Star Wars), T000 – (Movie Terminator 2 – Judgement Day) played by Robert Patrick, Ash – (Movie Alien) played by Ian Holm and Roy Batty (Movie Blade Runner) Played by Rutger Hauer, all tie for second.
Interesting facts about Rachael’s part:
Grace Slick was suggested as an actress for the part as Rachael. Dick suggested that the novel’s subplot about Deckard being brought to a phony police station run by androids could be eliminated, and proposed a new scene which would show Deckard making love to Rachael inter-cut with Isidore trying to do the same with Pris and comically failing. He further suggested that Deckard’s estrangement from Rachael following their lovemaking could be shown to aid him in his mission to kill Pris (who, in the novel, looks identical to Rachael).
Rachael’s telephone number is 555-7583 (which seems to me an awfully short number for the futuristic Los Angeles!)
At some point of the movie, each replicant has a red brightness in their eyes (Rachael in Deckard’s home, Pris in Sebastian’s). Deckard also has the shining in his eyes while talking to Rachael in his house. In July 2000, director Ridley Scott said that Deckard is, in fact, a replicant. Harrison Ford takes issue with this, however. “We had agreed that he definitely was not a replicant,” Ford said. Rutger Hauer’s autobiography expressed some disappointment with the same, because it reduced the final clash between Deckard and Batty from a symbolic “man vs. machine” battle to two replicants fighting.
What is your view? Is Deckard an android?
Interesting facts about R3D2’s part
In the first star Wars movie of 1977, Dan O’Bannon and John C Walsh animated the Death Star schematics seen on the computer screen as R2D2 searches the Death Star’s computer memory. They were influenced by similar sequences they produced for the film Dark Star (1974).
Industrial Automaton built R2D2 in the movie. Industrial Automaton also created the R4-P17 and R5-D4 droids.
Interesting facts about T1000’s part
Robert Patrick mimicked the head movements of the American bald eagle for his role as T-1000.
Interesting facts about Ash’s part
According to Ian Holm, Ash’s head contained spaghetti, cheap caviar and onion rings.
According to Holm, only he knew what would happen in the scene where the alien bursts out of his stomach. The other actors had not rehearsed this with him. The result was a very authentic scream from Lambert (played by Veronica Cartwright)
Interesting facts about Roy Batty’s part
Rutger Hauer came up with many inventive ideas for his characterization, like the moment where he grabs and fondles a dove. He also improvised the now-iconic line “All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain”.
So what did you think about the results? Do you agree with them?
This week: My Predictions the Future, Review of 1966 film Grand Prix and Progress on Short Stirling Replica project.
My Predictions the Future
And now for a bit of fun! Here are my predictions of what will happen (and what what won’t) during my lifetime. I am 51 now so let’s assume I will live another 30 years:
A real Short Stirling wreck will be recovered and restored to museum standard, but I don’t think a real one will fly again. See further down the page for news on a real Stirling replica project.
Fusion power will work but will not significantly affect energy prices yet
Alexander the Great’s tomb will be found
Whoever ordered John F Kennedy’s assassination will not be revealed and proven.
NASA will not have sent a manned-mission to Mars yet
Now, what are yours?
First 5 commenters get a copy of any new eBook I publish in the next 12 months FREE! These are likely to be: a WWII/Aliens thriller, Iron III, Worlds Like Dust (book 1) and a literary fiction work.
Review of 1966 film Grand Prix
To mark death of James Garner, the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix was shown on TV last week. If you love Formula One I am sure you will agree with me; what a film!
I first saw Garner in The Great Escape and The Rockford Files. I always found him likable although not an incredibly deep acting talent. Time has proved his ability to choose great projects to be a talent in itself. The earliest films I have seen him in are Sayonara (1957) with Marlon Brando and The Children’s Hour (1961) with Audrey Hepburn. He always seems to pick the right project and did a stirling job (if you will allow the pun) in The Great Escape. He is almost always the likable rogue with a warm smile. Only in Grand Prix does he play the anti-hero. His thoughtful acting will be missed.
Back to Grand Prix. It opens with a Saul Bass (one of the two best title sequence writers ever) intro that rivals anything else. We hear the roar of the Grand Prix engines, watch the exhausts vibrate and mechanics tightening bolts to the stirring march that accompanies the film.
Then there is a long in-car sequence, interspersed with track-side camera footage of a race at Monaco, in which Garner as the selfish and ambitious American driver, Pete Aron seems to force a BRM driver off the track and they both end up in the sea, losing Aron his drive for the rest of the year.
In fact, he defends his actions and we see that other drivers like and trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we do too. Yves Montand is the romantic lead in the film and fights for the love of Eva Maria Saint, winning her but at a huge cost.
There are bad crashes, as there were then, deaths and fights back to drive again but in the end it comes down to the last race of the year and four drivers who can win. It’s nail-biting stuff.
What I love about the film, apart from the beautiful photography and choreography of the driving shots, is that the film doesn’t pull any punches and dips right into the politics of Formula One which we still see today. I must mention here that Grand Prix races existed before there was a Formula One World Championship. In those days, not all races contributed to the World Championship. But the Formula (Formula One being the fuel quality) is the same.
As for the politics, the Ferrari demagogue uses the driver’s wives and girlfriends as levers to put pressure on the drivers and even delivers cars too late for them to be properly prepared for the race. I sometimes wonder if second driver’s cars these days are tampered with in the same way.
Frankenheimer has put together some cinematic poetry here; there is a beautiful sequence with no location sound but only a beautiful, classical arrangement of the theme (with harpsichord if my hears serve me well). The cars are mirrored, multiplied and dance across the screen like ballerinas. It is half way between Swan Lake and the lovely sequence of William Walton in Battle of Britain.
One should note of course, that not all was as it seemed in this film. The drivers all had to drive their own cars and had intensive lessons before shooting began. Formula One cars were felt to be too fast and dangerous so Formula Three cars were dressed up to look like Formula One cars for the in-car sequences. Some of the drivers were too scared to use real Formula Three cars so the director had them towed around the circuits behind a Ford Gt 40. Garner did all his own driving (except perhaps the most difficult scenes) and was so taken with racing that he commenced his own racing career shortly after and did quite well.
Possibly the best sequence is shot at full speed in the last race of the season at Monza. The director chose to use the old banked curves, even though they had not been used for the real Formula One for a few years. It’s dramatic and documents what racing used to be like. It all adds to the feeling of a documentary and one in which Frankenheimer was trying to capture the true spirit of the old racing before it began to change. I am glad it is a lot safer now but you have to admire the courage of the drivers racing those tiny cars without roll bars, proper helmets or proper fire-proof suits.
Another thing I really like about the film is the lack of special effects. There is a lovely sequence when James Garner is talking to Pat (Jessica Walter), one of the other driver’s wives, in his new Ford Mustang. It must be one of the few such scenes where you can tell that the driver really is driving the car, and flat out at that, while performing a long dialogue in the car. Nice one Jim!
For those who have been following my updates on the project to build a replica Short Stirling, the first British 4-engined bomber built during World War II and the only major British type to have no survivor, here is a brief update:
Recently, I came across a video on youtube purporting to show a newly discovered Short Stirling wreck near the French coast. I told John who heads the replica construction project and contacted the powers that be to get the ball rolling. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good. Here is John’s reply to recent message from me, asking how things were going:
“Not much I’m afraid, the group were helpful but French law precludes recovery of any parts from the site unfortunately”