Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Silver Scenes Celebrates 3 Years!

Time to bring out the bubbles! 

This week marks the third anniversary of Silver Scenes. It's a monumental event of no consequence to our readers, but two sisters from Cleveland are feeling quite sentimental about it, and so we'll spread our good cheer around. Three years ago this week we popped the cork and launched this blog with the high-expectations that with any luck it may just last six months. 

Since it has outgrown its britches, Diana and I will be celebrating this occasion all week long with some cheap beer, and we advise you to do the same. If you have a dapper suit or black evening gown, feel free to don that too. 

To help get you giddy, on Monday night we'll be giving away a door prize :  a vintage movie still to a random commentator ( yeah, what the hey, spammers included! ) who answers a simple question : What is your favorite movie genre? 

Here's your chance to own a piece of Hollywood history....this is a random drawing, so anyone can win!

There's nothing like an anniversary to make one realize just how true to course they have stuck to their initial goal. Our very first post boasted that Silver Scenes would feature: 

* a good directory of where to find classic movie info on the web.
* classic movie themed crossword puzzles, quizzes, and picture puzzles 
* interviews ( those didn't happen )
* lots of rare and unique photographs 
* biographies
* radio broadcasts
* behind-the-scenes tidbits 
..and last, but certainly not least
* classic movie reviews 

It looks like the radio broadcasts, behind-the-scenes tidbits, and "rare and unique photograph" sharing have been neglected, so this year we're going to try and remedy that. To start things off, we're adding a new series, aptly entitled "From the Archives", featuring those rare and unique photographs from Hollywood's Golden Age. Of course, they'll come from Silverbanks Pictures, our vast archive of movie stills. Some will be available to purchase, and others will be interesting photos that we sold in the past.


  Answer the question, What's Your Favorite Movie Genre? in the comment box below and you'll be entered in a drawing to win this original John Payne/Linda Darnell movie photo dating from 1940!  

Keep your eyes out for more behind-the-scenes tidbits too, because that's an always-fascinating part of Hollywood's history that needs to be shared.

Our main goal in starting Silver Scenes was to introduce overlooked and underrated classic films to our readers. We may not have accomplished that as of yet, but we certainly will try in the future. As old Pete would say, thar's a heap too many films being buried in the dust of forgotteness! Speaking of which, if you're stumped on what to watch this evening, check out the Nugget Reviews page to pick up a few titles. Click on a title unfamiliar to you, read the little review, and presto! you've got a movie to look into.

The very first article we posted back in May 2013 was Kentucky Derby themed and, since Derby Day is coming around the stretch once again, we'll be posting another horse-racing themed article in the next few days. Tally-ho!

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Four Feathers ( 1939 )

Every generation of the Favershams have had a military hero, but even as a boy Harry Faversham thought war futile and did not wish to follow in his illustrious family's footsteps. As his father explained to a comrade, "I send him to the best army school in England, spend half my time telling him about his famous ancestors and what do you think? I found him this morning reading poetry.... Shelley of all people! "   

As Harry ( John Clements ) matured, his viewpoint of war did not alter, but not wishing to displease his father, he enters the British Army. However, while saying goodbye to his fiancee Ethne ( June Duprez ), he reconsiders his decision and on the eve of the day his company is to leave to join Kitchener's army in Sudan, he resigns his commission. Harry feels that his future with Ethne and living a peaceful life in England is more important than fighting a hopeless battle in the desert.   
"The futility of this idiotic Egyptian adventure and the madness of it all, the ghastly waste of time that we can never have again!"  

His commanding officer is very displeased with him, as are his three boyhood friends who each send him a white feather, symbolizing cowardice. This does not affect him so much as does hearing his sweetheart agree with them:   

"You were not born free Harry, and nor was I. We were born into a tradition, a code which we must obey even if we do not believe in it.....and we must obey because the pride and happiness of everyone around us depends upon our obedience."


With passion and anger in him he plucks off a white feather from her fan, and adds them to the group, making four feathers. He secretly vows to prove his courage to Ethne, his companions ...and himself. The way he goes about this is above and beyond the call of duty. This is where the romance ends, and the adventure begins.

During the late 1930s many British Imperialism-themed adventure spectacles were released, but Alexander Korda's The Four Feathers - released in 1939, that magnificent year of movie-making - is by far the best.


Filmed on location in the Middle East in glorious Technicolor, we follow Harry on various escapades throughout Egypt, climaxing in a battle at Obdurman, before we return to England for the "showdown". For a film that's not even two full hours in length, it manages to squeeze in quite a bit of story and a lot of excitement, as well as a tender sub-romance involving Captain John Durrance ( Ralph Richardson ), one of Harry's three friends, and Ethne. 

The beloved character actor C. Aubrey Smith, plays one of his usual "bombastic gentleman" roles, that of Ethne's father, a retired general who likes to recount a tale of his bravery using the fruit and nuts from the dinner table.

"Now the Crimean ...... war was war in those days, and men were men!"   


The Four Feathers was released on DVD several years ago ( in an excellent Blu-Ray Criterion edition ), but has since become quite rare. Most of Korda's films haven't even had a DVD release, so it's a wonder that this version was even printed. 

With spectacular filming, breathtaking color, a sweeping Miklos Rozsa score, thrilling battle scenes ( that have cropped up again as clips in many other films ), and excellent cast performances, this is a real gem. The story is not a new one, however. 

"The Four Feathers" was originally a famous novel written by A.E.W. Mason in 1902, and its first screen-telling was made in 1915. It was remade in 1929, with the dashing Richard Arlen and Fay Wray, Clive Brook and William Powell. 


After the blockbuster Korda version, it was made yet again by RKO ( inferiorly ) in 1955, and retitled Storm Over the Nile starring Anthony Steele, Lawrence Harvey and Ian Carmichael. Ah, but who wants to stop at four versions?..... in 1977 the made-for-TV Four Feathers was aired starring Beau Bridges, Robert Powell, Jane Seymour and Simon Ward. And last ( but I'm certain not the end of this tale ) in 2002 with Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, and Kate Hudson in the starring roles. 

Unless you have a passion for comparison, don't even bother with these other versions, because, to this day, Korda's 1939 The Four Feathers remains the crown-jewel of them all. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


Belly up to the bar, boys! This glassy-eyed drunk seems to like the idea of downing that huge whiskey bottle but it looks like he already had one drink too many. If you know the actor, you probably can guess the film, so why not give it a try? 

Don't know what this game is all about? Then check out the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game ( and the prize ) here

GAME OVER. Congratulations to Phyl who correctly guessed Romance on the High Seas ( 1948 ) starring Doris Day and Jack Carson. In this particular scene Jack and Oscar Levant go to a Mexican bar to drown their sorrows, but this wily local drunkard steals all their drinks!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

William Holden in "Dear Ruth" ( 1947 )

When most people think of William Holden and the parts he played, they think of gritty characters such as Sheers ( The Bridge on the River Kwai ) and Pike Bishop ( The Wild Bunch ), or military men like Major Ferris ( The 7th Dawn ) and Lt. Col. Black ( The Proud and the Profane ), or even perhaps businessmen such as MacDonald Walling ( Executive Suite ); but very few think of him as "that handsome and pleasant young star of light-hearted comedies". Yet, that is exactly how one movie-goer dubbed him in a 1940s fan magazine. 

William "Bill" Holden was indeed a handsome and pleasant young star during his days as a Paramount contract player, starring in such comedies as Those Were the Days ( 1940 ), Meet the Stewarts ( 1942 ), The Fleet's In ( 1942 ), and The Remarkable Andrew ( 1942 ). After his marriage to Brenda Marshall in 1941, he even gained a reputation as being a devoted family man. It was not until he was cast as Joe Gillis, the ambitious screenwriter, in Sunset Boulevard ( 1950 ) that he received recognition for his dramatic acting ability. 

One of the best of his "handsome and pleasant young man" portrayals was that of Lieutenant Bill Seacroft in Paramount's Dear Ruth, released in 1947. 



Norman Krasna's "Dear Ruth" was one of the funniest comedies to hit the stage in the years following World War II. There wasn't a theater in America that wasn't putting on their own version of "Dear Ruth" at the time. John Dall had starred in a successful Broadway performance of the play ( it ran for 20 months ); Guy Madison and Diana Lynn were raising the roof in a performance at the newly-created La Jolla Playhouse in California ( founded by Gregory Peck ); and William Talman, who would later find fame as District Attorney Hamilton Burger on the Perry Mason television series, also starred in a successful run of "Dear Ruth" in New York. It wasn't surprising then, that Hollywood would snag the opportunity to replicate its success on film. 

Dear Ruth centered around the Wilkins family, primarily their teenage daughter Miriam ( Mona Freeman ). Believing it to be her patriotic duty to support the morale of soldiers overseas, she begins writing letters to an Air Force lieutenant, Bill Secroft ( William Holden ), signing them with her older sister's name - Ruth. As might be expected, when the airman gets his leave he decides to make a surprise visit to meet the girl he has fallen in love with through her letters. Ruth ( Joan Caulfield ), surprised and unaware of Miriam's military pen-pal, decides to play along with the charade only until the soldier's leave is up, much to the chagrin of her fiance ( Billy De Wolfe ). Only it becomes apparent that Bill's intentions are marriage, and Ruth finds she does not want to brush off the soldier after all. 

Director William Russell kept the cast busy throughout handling one comedic situation after another in the film. Edward Arnold and the inimitable Billy De Wolfe stole all the scenes, but it was William Holden who really shined as the bewildered airman. 



At first, Bill Seacroft strikes audiences as a rather brash fellow, walking into the Wilkins household unannounced and boldly declaring to Ruth's father his intentions to marry his daughter...without even having met her. Once he does meet her, we see that it was just nervousness that made him so bold. All those hours spent in a bomber over Germany with only Ruth on his mind...it was a long awaited first-meeting finally coming true for him. To find that the girl he thought so much about was even more lovely in person would naturally make him puff his feathers. 

Seacroft was a part that suited William Holden to a tee ( in real life he served in the Air Force during WWII as a lieutenant ) and he brought an innocence to the role that made audiences, just like Ruth, feel sorry for him and yet love and admire him at the same time. 

The film's success with the movie public left it wide open for a sequel and it arrived, albeit two years late, in the equally amusing Dear Wife ( 1949 ) with, thankfully, the complete cast intact. This film focused on Bill and his father-in-law, Judge Wilkins ( Edward Arnold ), vying for a Senatorial seat. 


If William Holden's roles in comedies are unfamiliar to you, then I would highly recommend viewing Dear Ruth and Dear Wife. Both of these films showcase Holden in top form and at his most endearing. 

This post is our contribution to The William Holden Blogathon being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. To read more posts on the life and films of William Holden simply click here. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bertram Millhauser and the Sherlock Holmes Films

Bertram Millhauser is a familar name to any mystery fan, for he penned five scripts for the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s. Millhauser obviously loved mysteries himself. His personal life is shrouded in mystery and even his portrait bears a striking resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe, looking like it belongs hanging on the walls of the Haunted Mansion. 

Millhauser was born in New York City in 1892. He began his career as a stenographer in the advertising department of Pathe films. While still a teenager, he worked his way up to the script department penning scenarios and then full scripts to a number of short films starring Pearl White, including the famous serial The Perils of Pauline ( 1914 ).

Throughout the 1920s Bertram Millhauser kept busy at Pathe devising story plots for dramas and action and adventure flickers such as The Timber Queen ( 1922 ), The Eagle's Talons ( 1923 ), Code of the Sea ( 1924 ) and Feet of Clay ( 1924 ). He also tried his hand at producing, and he put the money down on a film he helped write, The Leopard Lady ( 1928 ) for the DeMille Corporation. 

Millhauser got a foretaste of his future bread-and-butter, the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, when he was called upon to write the script for the last Holmes film to feature the stone-faced English actor, Clive Brooks - Conan Doyle's Master Detective Sherlock Holmes - in 1932. This script was far removed from the Holmes scenarios that Arthur Conan Doyle had made so popular in his serialization of the character in the Strand Magazine. It pitted Holmes against his arch-nemesis Moriarty who unleashed a group of international criminals in London, plotting to introduce the "American method" of organized crime - protection rackets - unto the public. Gone was the Victorian London of yor, for Holmes was now a detective in a modern 1930s setting.

While Holmes remained true to character, Millhauser obviously must have had very little regard for Dr. Watson ( portrayed admirably by Reginald Owen) because he gives the old boy the brush-off after only two scenes. When Holmes learns of the American hoodlums plotting their mob rule in London, this exchange takes place : 

Sherlock

"There's only one way to deal with these alien butchers.....Their own way. Shoot first, investigate afterwards."

Dr. Watson

"But is it sporting, old chap?"

Sherlock

"Oh, get out, Watson."

Times have indeed changed from Conan Doyle's days! Poor Watson leaves the scene, never to appear again in the film. 

While the production values to Conan Doyle's Master Detective Sherlock Holmes were high, the script bogged the film down, and Clive Brook would later confess that his last outing as Holmes was in "a terrible film". 


Perhaps Millhauser's mind was on a project more dear to his heart at the moment. In 1932 he was adapting his own novel - "The Life of Jimmy Dolan" - into a film starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Loretta Young. Millhauser was no longer devising merely scenarios for budget action films and was now working steadily on scripts for productions that starred top-drawing actors such as Kay Francis ( Storm at Daybreak ), Barbara Stanwyck ( Ever in My Heart ) and James Cagney ( Jimmy the Gent ). 

It was during this time that Millhauser hit his stride, penning a number of great budget mystery films including The Garden Murder Case ( one of the Phylo Vance series ), Magnificent Brute ( 1936 ), Under Cover of Night ( 1937 ), The Crime Nobody Saw ( 1937 ), and Nick Carter, Master Detective ( 1939 ). 

Universal Studios beckoned in 1942 when they called Bertram over to pen a screenplay for the next entry in their popular Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce - Sherlock Holmes in Washington. Universal made an exclusive $300,000 deal with the Conan Doyle estate which gave the studio title to the characters for a seven-year period, along with rights to 21 of Doyle's original stories. Universal quickly decided to depart from the traditional Victorian era setting that the 20th Century Fox films had established ( The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ) and feature the detecting duo in a series of brashly up-to-the-minute espionage intrigues : Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

Sherlock Holmes in Washington was the last in the series to feature Nazis as the main antagonists, and also the last in which Rathbone sports his Caesarian haircut. Millhauser fancied himself capable of creating his very own Holmes yarn without referring to the Conan Doyle stories, but sadly, his ego would be wounded. The story to Sherlock Holmes in Washington ( 1943 ) relied too heavily on coincidence to generate much excitement, and Millhauser's script was surprisingly lackluster considering the premise itself was quite clever. It concerned an all-important piece of microfilm hidden in a matchbox. The British have it, then lose it; the Americans want it, and the Nazis will fight for it; but only Sherlock obtains it in the end. 


Undeterred by this stilted script, Universal assigned Bertram Millhauser to create another Holmes mystery, and their faith in his writing ability paid off....Sherlock Holmes Faces Death was one of the best in the series. This time Millhauser worked from a Conan Doyle story - "The Sign of Four" - to create a really taut screenplay set in an army officers convalescence home called Musgrave House, in which three murders have taken place - always after the clock strikes thirteen! Holmes ingeniously discovers - with the aid of boozy butler Brunton - that an old spoken inheritance ritual is in fact a clue, passed down from generation to generation, pointing the way to a long forgotten land grant buried in the cellar of the manor. 

"Hurlstone? Grim old pile. Very spooky"
Dr. Watson

"Don't tell me you met a ghost?"
Sherlock Holmes

"No, not so spooky as that. Ghosts don't stab people in the neck, do they? Or do they?"
Dr. Watson

"Not well-bred ghosts, Watson."
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death dispensed with the Nazis and had Sherlock using his powers of deduction to solve crimes committed by devious criminals. This film captured an almost Gothic atmosphere and the script implied an acceptance of the supernatural, for the first four lines of the Musgrave ritual - "Who first shall find it, were better dead; who next shall find it, perils his head; the last to find it, defies dark powers; and brings good fortune to Hurlstone Towers" take on the air of prophecy when it comes true. Bertram wove a number of great classic mystery elements together - the dark stormy night, secluded manor, hidden passages, and the old chestnut of the clock striking 13 - into an engrossing and sprightly paced film. 


Since he was so successful in adapting a Conan Doyle story, Millhauser decided to use them as reference again for the sixth Sherlock Holmes film, The Pearl of Death ( 1944 ), which had Holmes chasing after a stolen pearl hidden within the bust of a Napoleon statue. This scenario, based upon "The Six Napoleons", had the elements of being a highly entertaining film, but Millhauser did not expand on some of its most promising plot innovations ( the public 'disgrace' of Holmes, for example ) and instead chose to throw in the brutish Oxton Creeper to give the film more of the Universal horror touch. 

Millhauser's last Sherlock Holmes script was undoubtably his best. He combined elements from six of Conan Doyle stories into one of the most delightful Sherlock Holmes films in the series - The Spider Woman ( 1944 ). This film pitted Holmes against Adrea Spedding, a female Moriarity, who selects gamblers down in their luck as her victims in a series of "pyjama murders". The film itself is only 63 minutes and yet it included some of the most memorable scenes in the entire series - Holmes' "demise" in a roaring turrent ( taken from "The Final Problem" ) and the mourning by Mrs. Hudson, Watson, and Lestrade ( each of whom wanted his pipe ); the pygmy killer; Holmes' disguise as Maharajah Singh; the fake entomologist; and the smoke-bomb ruse Ms. Spadding employed at 221B Baker Street. 

"Of all the transparent old fakers I ever saw!...."Gilflower" what a name to pick!..."Bullflower"...."Bullfrog"...."Wiggle-woggle"! Why, you can do better than that....those dark glasses! That preposterous wig! Come out from behind those silly whiskers - I know you!"

Dr. Watson, talking to an aged entomologist he believes is Holmes in disguise

In 1944, Bertram Millhauser took a brief break from the Sherlock Holmes series to pen two other mysteries for Universal : The Invisible Man's Revenge and Enter Arsene Lupin, before he completed his last Holmes film, The Woman in Green ( 1945 ). This was certainly the most ghoulish premise in the series with Holmes hunting for a killer who blackmails innocent people by convincing them, with the placement of a severed finger in their pocket and some clever hypnotizing, that they committed the crimes themselves. This film had its memorable moments, but it lazily approached its climax and Sherlock Holmes himself seemed rather tired with the whole mystery. 

Millhauser typed out the scripts to a few other mysteries in the late 1940s such as The Web ( 1948 ) and Toyko Joe ( 1949 ) starring Humphrey Bogart, before he decided that television would provide him with more creative opportunities. He worked on several episodes of Chevron Theatre, and the Lux Video Theatre, and worked as story editor on over 39 episodes of The Lone Ranger before he put the dust cover on his typewriter for good. Millhauser passed away in 1958 at the age of 66. 

This post is our contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's spring blogathon "Words, Words, Words" running from April 11th to April 15th. Be sure to head on over to CMBA's website to check out more posts on screenwriters, authors, and writers featured in movies. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ( 1969 )

"I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders and all of my girls are the créme de la créme"

Miss Jean Brodie ( Maggie Smith ) has dedicated her life, the prime of her life, to her gairls, a class of impressionable students at Marcia Blain's School for Girls in Edinburgh. Forsooth, there are four girls in particular that she hand-picked to nurture, mold, and carry forth into the world the ideologies, etiquette, and culture of the Brodie manifesto: 
Mary ( Jane Carr ), a stuttering simple-minded child who worships her; Monica (  Shirley Steadman) a literary who Miss Brodie predicts will one day become an actress; Jenny ( Diane Greyson ), a young beauty whom Miss Brodie feels a spiritual bond with, and who she believes is destined to become a great lover; and Sandy ( Pamela Franklin ). "What shall I say about Sandy?" "Sandy is dependable," Sandy replies. 

Indeed, all of Miss Brodie's girls are dependable....and loyal to her. Or so Jean believes, until one day she is informed of her dismissal by the school board and discovers that it was one of her set who "betrayed" her with accusations that she was corrupting the minds of her pupils with fascist politics. 


"You are dangerous and unwholesome, and children should not be exposed to you!"

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", Muriel Spark's most celebrated work, was penned in 1961 and has since become known as one of the great contemporary works of fiction. It is a slim, sparse, and brittle novella, written with exactness and compassionate wit. Her story of the charismatic schoolteacher and the effect she has on her pupils was inspired by Miss Kay, a teacher at the Edinburgh school of girls that Spark attended in her youth. "What filled our minds with wonder and made Miss Kay so memorable was the personal drama and poetry within which everything in her classroom happened."

Jay Presson Allen expanded upon the book when writing the script to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was based upon his own stage play ( Vanessa Redgrave starred in the original 1966 London production ). Whereas the film follows a natural progression of time, Mrs. Spark moves back and forth in her narrative. We follow six girls of Miss Brodie's "set" throughout their school years, but we also see their middle age and how they looked back with amusement on a Miss Brodie who was beyond her prime. It is only Sandy, the "clever" one, now Sister Helena, a nun, who has compassion for the woman she ultimately betrays, understanding her weaknesses. 


"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life"

Miss Brodie believes that deep in all of us is the potential for greatness, or the potential to inspire greatness. As a teacher - first, last, and always - she fiercely defends the freedom she has, and the power she wields, in her ability to inspire her students to think beyond conventional standards. She nurtures their independent spirit ( "phrases like the 'team spirit' are always employed to cut across individualism"and admirably imparts to them a passionate love for history, music, literature, and beauty in nature. While other students eat together in the common cafeteria, Miss Brodie and her girls have picnics under the shady boughs of the chestnut tree outdoors. 

Brodie's antithesis is the prim and proper headmistress Miss MacKay ( the brilliant Celia Johnson ). MacKay belongs to a respectable old set, an admirer of Stanley Baldwin and his belief in Safety First. But as Miss Brodie informs her girls, "Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first." 


Miss MacKay is jealous of the dedication and admiration Jean inspires in her pupils. Like the other girls, Sandy admires Miss Brodie too, but she questions her teachings and comes, in time, to see Miss Brodie's deep-rooted love of art and beauty warp into a misguided and sordid manipulation of her girls. Miss Brodie's own sense of purity denies her from indulging in any physical display of passion for Mr. Lloyd ( Robert Stephens ), her true love, the art teacher, or Mr. Lowther ( Gordon Jackson ), the singing master, who wishes to marry her. However, she delights in the idea of one of her set becoming Lloyd's mistress. 

Her admiration for men and women who fight for what they believe in, causes her to praise figures such as Benito Mussolini and Franco as conquerors, men who will go down in history as dedicated warriors; and her rousing speeches in praise of these Fascisti causes Mary MacGregor to head into the fray of battle in Spain, dying a fool's death. Sandy alone cares enough to react in turn, and cruel in her awakened moral conscience, she exacts a revenge that will doom her teacher to a bitter and solitary spinsterhood. 


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was a critical and box office success upon its release in 1969. Its opening theme song "Jean" ( written by Rod McKuen and performed by Oliver ) went on to top the billboard charts. 

Maggie Smith is a triumph in her Oscar-winning portrayal of the captivating teacher, and Pamela Franklin gives a particularly strong performance, but it is the director Ronald Neame - an artist who was basking in his prime at the time -who deserves credit for making The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie such a brilliant film, both visually and dramatically. 

Through this picture, he accomplished what almost all filmmakers hope to accomplish when adapting a book to film - to create a picture that not only does justice to its origin but improves upon it. And as Miss Brodie would probably agree - one should always strive for perfection in any art form.

This post is our contribution to the Beyond the Cover - Books to Film Blogathon being hosted by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy. Be sure to head on over to their sites to read more articles on films that were adapted from books. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Fast Lady ( 1962 )

The poster art for The Fast Lady implies that it is another one of Leslie Phillips' libidinous comedies that were popular in the 1960s and which, according to your taste, you would either look forward to with great glee, or scoff in distaste. In reality, the star of the film is not Leslie Phillips, and as far as its rating goes, it is really quite tame....so both of these audiences would have been in for a surprise. The studio was in for a surprise too - the film turned out to be the smash hit of 1962. Looking at The Fast Lady today, it's not astonishing to see why the film became such a favorite with the public, for it combines laughter with romance in a high-octane mixture that's sure to rev up anyone's engine. 

The real stars of the The Fast Lady were the lady herself - the 1927 Bentley 3/4½ - and Stanley Baxter, one of the UK's greatest comics. Baxter plays Murdoch Troon, an unattached Scotsman who despises motorcars and loves to bicycle to work. He's a girl-shy young man who finds his neighbor Freddie Fox's ( Leslie Phillips ) obsession with women abhorring. Murdoch's views of women and cars changes fast when he sets his headlamp on a prominent businessman's beautiful blonde daughter, Claire ( Julie Christie ). In an attempt to impress her, Murdoch acquires the racer and undertakes a series of driving lessons. In spite of his clumsiness, winning Claire's affections comes easily enough, but winning the approval of her father ( James Robertson Justice ) becomes another matter entirely. The final decision on whether he is permitted to court her or not rests on how well he can handle the Fast Lady. 


What makes The Fast Lady such an entertaining film is its crisp comic timing and fast speed - we meet Murdoch and see what a predicament he puts himself into right from the start. His Scottish temper and over-confidence get him into one rut after another, especially after he buys the Fast Lady. The rest of the film focuses on Murdoch attempting to acquire the knack of handling the old gal, and if anyone gets impatient during these scenes, it is Murdoch Troon himself. The whole "driving system" makes him want to chuck the car and return to his bicycle....."If only I hadn't invested so much money in the motorcar!" he thinks to himself. 

Stanley Baxter, with his flaming red hair, is a true delight. He was born in Glasgow and made a career on radio and television of imitating ( and exaggerating ) what most people come to associate about the Scots. He is best known for his series of sketches, Parliamo Glasgow, which aired on BBC throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 


In The Fast Lady, Baxter portrays the young Scotsman as a noble, but rather foolish, figure; heavy on the brogue, and proud to wear the kilt when the occasion calls for it. When he is not on the road with the Bentley, or courting Claire, he spends his time counting his pennies, and watching bagpipers on the tele.

Leslie Phillips plays his usual character - the grinning cad - while Julie Christie was making one of her first screen appearances as Murdoch's gal. She catapulted to fame shortly after the release of Billy Liar in 1963. James Robertson Justice is marvelous too as the burly bear who'd rather destroy Murdoch then see him as his son-in-law. He would reprise a similar protective-father role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang five years later. 


In supporting parts are Allan Cuthbertson as the stern driving inspector, and Kathleen Harrison as Murdoch's sympathetic landlady. Comedian Frankie Thomas also puts in a cameo appearance. 

Two years later most of the cast reunited for another comedy - Father Came Too! - which followed the story of a young married couple who purchase a run-down cottage in the country. 

For me, The Fast Lady ranks, with Genevieve, as one of the best comedies about the Brit's obsession with vintage automobiles, but ach! it is not available on DVD in the US at the moment. Network Distributing has released this film in PAL format in the UK, along with Father Came Too!, and a number of great British comedy classics, so if you have a region-free player, then bully for you. Be sure to check out their website for upcoming releases of other titles.

In the meantime, check out The Fast Lady on Youtube
here.
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