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Gloria Grahame (1923-1981)

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Frances Dee (1909-2004)

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Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)

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New From Warner Archive: Peter O'Toole Breaks Out in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1959)


It's interesting how time can affect the way we view a film, not just because of changing trends and culture, but also in the way we view the actors on the screen. The Day They Robbed the Bank of England is a sturdy, low-key thriller, with plenty of high-wire tension, but today it is perhaps best known for featuring Peter O'Toole's first major role in a film. Now his gracefully controlled performance can be enjoyed on a crisp new DVD from Warner Archive.

This is an unusual caper flick, because, for once, the characters do not steal because of greed, the desire to escape to a sunny island or even for thrills. These thieves are raising money to fund the IRA and they plan to do so by breaking into the gold vault in the high security Bank of England. Big on passion, but not so much strategy, they recruit Irish-American Charles Norgate (Aldo Ray), a mining engineer who is unknown in England and knows a thing or two about tunneling under a bank vault.

Most of the film follows Ray as he quietly educates himself about the bank, claiming an interest in architecture to gain access to high class circles. It's a nice piece of detective work and it's fun to watch him deliberately collect data, thrilling archivists and museum proprietors who do not often get such detailed requests for information. They are too flattered to be suspicious.
O'Toole and Ray

Part of Holgate's quest involves befriending Captain Monty Finch, a bored, but dedicated bank guard (Peter O'Toole) who through his sponsorship gets Norgate an account at the bank and a tour of the vaults. The two seem to enjoy a genuine friendship, or at least mutual admiration, though Holgate doesn't waver in his task. Finch never thinks to doubt him, until one night when the ever present rats suddenly disappear from the bank's basement and the gas lamps mysteriously dim.

The relationship between Finch and Holgate is the most fascinating in the film. Much more interesting than a half-hearted romance between Charles and Iris, a member of the gang, which too obviously only serves to advance the plot. There's also the standard hot-headed youth who is "not so sure about Holgate." The rest tend to blend into the background, though it is always a delight to see character actor Hugh Griffith and his Muppet-level bushy eyebrows.

Aldo Ray always looks, and sounds a little sleepy, which makes him endearing, but not terribly exciting as a leading man. As sympathetic as he can be, O'Toole outshines him in every way. You're supposed to be pulling for Holgate the hope of a revolution, but you want Captain Finch to take him to task.

And he does so brilliantly, O'Toole's reaction to the final denouement is so smooth, so completely satisfying that I had a huge grin on my face. It was all due to him too. If he had been in Ray's role, I know he would have still had me on his side. This is what makes a movie star.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Birthdays


Geraldine Fitzgerald (1913-2005)
Garson Kanin (1912-1999)

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New From Warner Archive: Lauren Bacall is Stalked by The Fan (1981)


While The Fan wasn't quite the camp extravaganza I expected, it's an oddly satisfying film. Though the thriller never got my heart pounding, it has such a strong cast that it didn’t fall flat either. I've been curious about this movie for years and in a new DVD from Warner Archive, I finally had the chance to check it out.

Based on a 1978 novel, The Fan stars Lauren Bacall as legendary movie star Sally Ross. The actress is rehearsing for her first starring role in a Broadway musical, though she can't really sing. Since Bacall actually starred in two Broadway musicals around that time, you're basically forced to accept the whole set-up as plausible.

Ross is being stalked by Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn), a record store employee who becomes increasingly frustrated by his thwarted attempts to make contact with the star. Determined to get to her, Breen sharpens his straight razor and begins slashing through the people in Sally's life.

Since that part of the plot only fills about half the running time, the movie is forced to meander through relationship drama, long dinners and Sally's arguments with her assistant (Maureen Stapleton). The slackening of pace kills the suspense, and leaves it a bit limp as a thriller, but the actors are so good that it ends up being enjoyable just seeing them do their thing.
Bacall, lovely at 56

Stapleton steals all of her scenes with a familiar no-nonsense warmth. She has a way of reminding you of someone you know, though you can't think of the name. James Garner is also pleasing as Ross' still loving ex-husband, though he's basically in the girlfriend role and doesn't have much to do. He's got nice chemistry with Bacall though and it's charming to see them together. I also loved seeing a very young Hector Elizondo as a police inspector who enchants Ross. He's very slick with his low-buttoned shirt and gold chain. Not many stars can pull that look off.

For most of the movie I thought that Biehn's performance was a bit lackluster, but I eventually realized that the real fault was with the script, and perhaps the pace of the film. There's plenty of nasty slasher scenes with gushing blood, but it feels gross rather than horrifying. The tension never bubbles over, even in the finale. I think given something more to work with, Biehn's baby-faced killer could have been a lot more menacing.

As it is, I didn't believe for a moment that Bacall would need to run from this guy. The first time she's face-to-face with him, she's supposed to look frightened, but appears more like she's ready to kick his ass. And I believed that she could have dropped him right then too.
Scared? Or ready to take out the trash?

Lauren Bacall is an interesting presence in this film. She's not classing it up as much as she seems to think she is, but at the same time, she can't help but be classy. The musical numbers are a glittery, campy mess and enormously entertaining because of it; however, though she barely rasps through her absurd numbers, she's still every bit a star. I was also astonished by how exciting it was to see Bacall's untouched 56-year-old face. I've become so used to seeing frozen Botoxed visages of women of that age that I marveled at the beauty of a naturally aging, and consequently much more effective actress.

The print had a lot more grain than I typically see in a Warner Archive release, and I thought it suited the gritty, early 1980s New York setting well. Anything sharper would have felt a little off.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Quote of the Week

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Elizabeth has great worries about becoming a cripple because her feet sometimes have no feeling in them. She asked if I would stop loving her if she had to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. I told her that I didn't care if her legs, bum and bosoms fell off and her teeth turned yellow. And she went bald. I love that woman so much sometimes that I cannot believe my luck. She has given me so much.

-Richard Burton, About Elizabeth Taylor

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