Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lt. Robin Crusoe U.S.N ( 1966 )

Put Dick Van Dyke on a deserted island with a bevy of Polynesian beauties and a space chimp and you'd think you would have a winning comedy. Walt Disney certainly thought so. He liked the idea of remaking Robinson Crusoe as a comedy vehicle for Dick Van Dyke so much that he penned the screenplay himself ....and perhaps that is where he made his mistake. 

Lt. Robin Crusoe U.S.N, released in 1966, was a failure as a comedy. Dick Van Dyke had the ability to pull this film off successfully, but he lacked a good script with more characters and situations to engage with. 

The film was an updated version of the classic 1719 Daniel Defoe novel about a man who gets shipwrecked on a deserted island and learns the skills necessary to survive. Dick Van Dyke stars as Lt. Robin Crusoe, a Navy fighter pilot, who bails out from his plane when it catches on fire. After days of drifting at sea, he is washed upon a beautiful deserted island where he eventually makes his home, building a hut, a post office system, and even a private golf course. One day, exploring the inner part of the island, he meets Wednesday ( Nancy Kwan ) a girl from the neighboring island who was abandoned there by her father ( Akim Tamiroff ), a vengeful chief, for punishment. Together with a band of native girls - her friends - they fight this chief and his tribe when they invade their island. 
Running at just over 110 minutes, Lt. Robin Crusoe drags on for too long, with its few laughs being scattered primarily in the first half of the film. At the time of its release, the critics were harsh..... Howard Thompson wrote in the New York Times, "Most of the picture has Mr. Van Dyke mugging and tripping over the lush scenery. It's neither very funny nor new and the picture is recommended, with reservations, only for the very, very young and for television fans who think Mr. Van Dyke can do no wrong."

Surprisingly, reviews such as these, did not hinder Dick Van Dyke fans from flocking to the theatres and the film grossed $22 million which is a tidy sum compared to the $28 million grossed by That Darn Cat one year earlier and the meager $1.9 million grossed by The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin - a superior comedy - one year later.

If you want to watch an entertaining version of Robinson Crusoe, you would be better off watching The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the classic 1964 television miniseries. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

From the Archives - Black Narcissus ( 1947 )

In this scene from Powell & Pressburger's Black Narcissus ( 1947 ), Sister Clodagh ( Deborah Kerr ) works on a lovely needlepoint while in the convent of St. Faith high up in the Himalayan mountains. This is one of her few moments of relaxation before havoc breaks loose at the convent.

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Wowee! Look at this monkey gal! She really knows how to bend. If you saw her move, you wouldn't easily forget her....but perhaps you did forget which film she appeared in. It's time to put your thinking cap on and try to remember which movie this screenshot is taken from. And just why is she looking at a Variety newspaper?

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to The Tactful Typist for correctly guessing "Give a Girl a Break" ( 1953 ) starring Gower and Marge Champion and Debbie Reynolds. This flexible lady appears within the first ten minutes of the film, eager to try out for the new stage role being offered. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Turn the Key Softly ( 1953 )

"London, the biggest city in the world... and it's all yours"

Three women are being released from Holloway Prison on the same morning. They come from vastly different backgrounds and each has plans for what they want to do on their first day of freedom, but they have all agreed to meet for dinner that evening. This simple story, told with warmth and empathy, follows the lives of these women during the span of that one day and the touching and tragic events that take place before and after this dinner.

Turn the Key Softly, based on the novel by John Burphy, is an underrated British gem set within post-war 1950s London, a London that is no more. It plays out like a film noir with small but key scenes slowly unfolding events that all lead up to the nail-biting finale. Director Jack Lee, being the master that he is, manages to put so much character into these scenes, filling each with details that make it enjoyable to watch multiple times over. Five minutes after the credits roll, we understand the nature of each of these three inmates and are curious to see how they will fare once they step foot in the great city of London again. All wish to make a change, to live a better life on the right side of the law, but will they be pressured to slip back to their old ways?
First, there is Stella, portrayed by a young Joan Collins. She's a West-End girl, "a tart with a heart" who has a weakness for the good things in dangling earrings and fishnet gloves. She has an honest bus driver waiting to marry her. Then there is Monica ( Yvonne Mitchell ), an elegant beauty, quite sophisticated, who clearly doesn't belong behind bars. She loved unwisely and took the wrap for her criminal boyfriend. Lastly, there is Mrs. Quilliam ( Kathleen Harrison ), a soft-spoken old-timer who was jugged for 15 counts of petty theft. She lost her daughter's affection but has the love of her beloved Johnny to keep her going.

"I wish you had a nice young man waiting for you" - Mrs. Quilliam
"I don't know any nice young men" - Monica
Jack Lee directed this opening sequence in such a way that the audience sympathizes immediately with the old lady and Monica, who have become a pair, and are merely amused by Stella, who it seems obvious will be visiting prison shortly again. Within hours each of them is tempted to criminal behavior, and it is then revealed that these first impressions may have been off the mark. The film is an excellent character study of humans and the desires that lead them to crime. None of these gals are intent on doing wrong, rather they seem to merely attract misfortune. 

Turn the Key Softly is beautifully photographed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth ( Scott of the Antarctic, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). He often utilizes close-ups to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters when dialogue is not spoken. The editing, by Lito Carruthers, is also taut. Within its 80-minute runtime, no scene is wasted. The finale on the top of the building at night is especially well filmed and edited. It is during the finale that the meaning behind the title "Turn the Key Softly" is also revealed. 
"For a whole year, day and night, all I could think of was warmth, food, and love"

While all of the production values were excellent, what makes Turn the Key Softly truly stand out is the cast. Yvonne Mitchell, a popular British stage and screen actress, is perfect as Monica. This woman was capable of speaking volumes in stillness, utilizing her eyes alone. Four years later she would be cast in a role completely the opposite of Monica, that of the frumpy housewife Amy in The Woman in a Dressing Gown, for which she won the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Joan Collins was only twenty years old at the time and was showing signs of the saucy siren she was to become. Her West End accent was over the top but she did a capable job portraying an easy gal who wants a little more in life than she knows she deserves. 

Kathleen Harrison was a legendary character actress having a career dating back to 1915. She was best known for playing Alice Thursday in the 1966 television series Mrs. Thursday and for playing Mother in the Huggett film series of the 1940s, but she made appearances in countless comedies and dramas as well. Mrs. Quilliam is one of her best roles. She is a gentle old gal and, in spite of her criminal record, is someone you would want to Monica did. 

The handsome Terence Morgan plays David, the dishonest lover. Morgan was very much like Richard Greene and could play villains as well as heroes with equal skill. Also in the cast is Geoffrey Keen as a generous employer, Thora Hird as a landlady, Russell Waters as a respectable drunk, and Glyn Houston as Bob the bus driver. 
The city of London itself is a starring attraction, too. The location filming offers a snapshot in time of places such as Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the West End, the London Underground, and Shepard's Bush, one of the city's suburbs. London was rebuilding itself after the beating it got during the war and it was growing larger every year. In Turn the Key Softly the city is encased in fog, but it was looking grand nonetheless. 

This post is our contribution to the 5th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon being hosted by Terence over at A Shroud of Thoughts. Be sure to head on over to the master page to read more reviews of famous and obscure British films of the 20th century. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Now and Forever ( 1956 )

"You can't separate us! We love each other!"

Lonely upper-class English schoolgirl Janette Grant ( Janette Scott ) falls in love with handsome Mike Pritchard ( Vernon Gray ), a poor mechanic from the local village. Janette's mother believes the courtship to be unsuitable and puts a stop to it by threatening to send her daughter to Canada. "Canada??!" the poor girl declares. And so, the two young lovers decide to defy their parents and attempt to elope to Scotland. 

Playwright R.F Delderfield clearly took inspiration from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" when he wrote "The Orchard Walls", the play which Now and Forever was based on. In place of the feuding families he focused the conflict on social class differences and an unfeeling mother ( excellently played by Pamela Brown ). It's an engaging story and you cannot help being sympathetic to the youngsters in their plight, especially that of poor Janette. 

Janette's parents were divorced when she was younger and so she lives at home with her mother, who coldly informs her one day that her father passed away in Ireland. This news, coupled with a lack of friends and her impending separation from Mike, leads her to attempt suicide by jumping from the bell tower at her school. Mike and Janette were willing to wait until they were older to marry but the threat of being separated now forces them to consider eloping as their only alternative. 
Michael Pertwee helped to write the screenplay which, although engaging, is rather incredulous at moments. Back in 1950s England, gossip yielded a powerful hand, especially in small villages, but would two eloping teenagers warrant front page news across England? By the end of the film, it seems as though the entire country's police force and its citizens have the dragnet set for their entrapment. 

Director Michael Zampi, who was best known for making comedies ( Too Many Crooks, Tonight's the Night, Laughter in Paradise ) shows that he was equally adept at handling drama. The Technicolor filming of Now and Forever is beautiful, as are the lovely scenes of the English countryside as Janette and Mike go scouring about in his hand-built roadster. The cast is top-notch, too. Janette Scott, a popular British child actress, was given the chance to display how well she could handle a more mature role and show her audience how much she was growing up. Vernon Gray, who resembles a young Tyrone Power, makes an admirable lover. Kay Walsh is also featured as Miss Muir, the headmistress at Janette's school. This role could have been expanded on because Kay's talent is wasted otherwise. Jack Warner plays Mike's father, and then there are small parts going to a number of great character actors such as Ronald Squire, Guy Middleton, Bryan Forbes, and Hattie Jacques. 

Now and Forever was clearly aimed towards a teenage audience with its heroes being two young defiant lovers. They set off on a romantic escapade to Scotland to elope and live happily ever after with only true love and nary a coin in their pockets to support them, but will a marriage such as theirs last? There is a disturbing air hovering over Janette's affection for Mike. It is as though the loss of her father made her realize that she had no one in the world to love and there was no one left in the world to love her. Miss Muir didn't have the courage to give her the maternal love she needed and after she meets Mike she pours all of the love that she stored up onto him. But this makes her seem possessive and all the more pitiable. Mike loves her but how much of that love was corrupted by fear after her suicide attempt? Even marriage would not clear the doubts and insecurities Janette has. 

So, while the film is thoroughly entertaining, its ending seems to leave the audience suspended. The title reads Now and Forever but perhaps Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? would have been more appropriate. 

Now and Forever is currently available on DVD from Network Distributing.

This post is our contribution to the 5th Annual Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Ready to read some more Brit film reviews? Then simply click here for a fine selection of posts.