Tag Archives: Denholm Elliott

The Sound Barrier (1952, David Lean)

There’s a lot to The Sound Barrier. Outside the truly magnificent aerial photography, not much of it has to do with the film itself. Other than director Lean and writer Terence Rattigan rewriting actual history to make it so a private British aircraft company “broke” the sound barrier some five years after Chuck Yeager did it for the United States Air Force. And Rattigan and Lean didn’t keep it technically accurate? I guess… anglo-pride or something.

So the gross historical inaccuracies aside, Sound Barrier adds up to being about why toxic masculinity is wonderful and women–like de facto lead Ann Todd–are silly for doubting men in their heartless pursuits. See, Todd’s dad is the owner of the private aircraft company–Ralph Richardson in a performance far better than the film needs or deserves–and he’s willing to sacrifice anyone to break that sound barrier.

Five years after it actually happened. But whatever.

I mean, even if the film’s set in 1947 or whatever–one of the events portrayed happened in 1946–it should’ve been technically accurate. Lean goes out of his way to use that amazing aerial photography of the test flights and so on, why not have an accurate script. But there’s also the problem of John Justin, who’s got kids presumably born after the war ended and they’re not three or four.

The film starts during the war–another weird thing about Sound Barrier is how assured everyone is the war’s end is imminent even when, you know, it’s not–with Todd marrying flier Nigel Patrick. Patrick and Justin are pals. Todd brings Patrick home to meet dad Richardson and brother Denholm Elliot. Elliot’s the best thing in the movie, though Justin’s all right too. Rattigan and Lean don’t have much use for Elliot, however, because he’s not the real man flier Richardson wants him to be. Thank goodness Todd married one in Patrick.

After the war, Patrick starts test piloting jets for Richardson. They’re going to break that sound barrier, even though the whole thing traumatizes Todd. She goes off to the movies during his flights so she doesn’t have to hear it. She’s just a silly woman, however. Patrick tells her so, Richardson tells her so, and by the end of the movie, The Sound Barrier tells her so.

The film’s a melodrama without much in the way of melodramatics. Todd’s performance is flat, ditto Patrick’s. Patrick at least seems like he should be superficial and (not maliciously) insensitive, but Todd is ostensibly the heart of the film. Not so, because she’s not a man. And only men, it turns out, can really experience things. Women are too busy worrying about winter coats and trying to one up the Joneses. Dinah Sheridan, as Justin’s wife, has the entirely thankless role of exemplifying how Todd’s worry-warting is so dumb.

And even though Richardson is awesome, he’s utterly devoid of any humanity. The film revels in it.

There’s no tension, there’s no suspense (the ending is forecast from literally the first scene), there’s no romance. Todd and Patrick do manage to have some chemistry, but it’s only because they’re being held prisoner by controlling Richardson. Silly Patrick even thinks Todd might be right about Richardson being bad news. Thank goodness he comes around; so the film’s not just great fodder for toxic masculinity discussions, there’s also the exceptional patriarchal bent.

Lean’s direction is competent. Rattigan’s script is exceptionally boring. Maybe at the time, if you were a British moviegoer who really hated Americans and willfully ignored recent history, you could get jingoistic about it. But not really, because it’s not about British ingenuity or anything, it’s about Richardson being awesome because he’s a bastard and Todd better come around to realizing it and embracing it. It’s about Todd realizing she’s a silly woman who just needs to listen to the man. It’s all very yucky.

Great photography from Jack Hildyard.

The Sound Barrier is never good. It’s never compelling. It’s absurdly lacking in any kind of insight, whether into its paper thin characters or its made up flight science. It’s not even interested in technical minutiae, which–for a while–seemed like it would be. But it’s never anywhere near as bad as the third act turns out to be. Maybe having a full stop false ending in the second act hurt. It doesn’t matter. The third act and then the finale crash harder than the jet planes do and they make these huge holes in the ground.

Not even plane designer Joseph Tomelty, who’s lovable from five minutes in, can survive that last act.

The Sound Barrier’s bunk.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by David Lean; written by Terence Rattigan; director of photography, Jack Hildyard; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by Malcolm Arnold; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Ann Todd (Susan), Nigel Patrick (Tony), Ralph Richardson (J.R.), John Justin (Philip), Denholm Elliott (Chris), Dinah Sheridan (Jess), and Joseph Tomelty (Will).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE DAVID LEAN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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Toy Soldiers (1991, Daniel Petrie Jr.)

While Petrie’s a decent director, it’d probably be hard to screw up Toy Soldiers. The movie mostly relies on Sean Astin, who’s more than capable of carrying it, so long as one likes Astin.

So, if you like Astin and think Keith Coogan’s funny… it works. I’m not sure how one’s supposed to respond to Wil Wheaton. Probably like him. Though when Wheaton tries to do an Italian accent, it’s problematic to say the least.

The supporting cast is very solid–Mason Adams, Denholm Elliot, Andrew Divoff.

Robert Folk’s musical score is excellent, which his filmography doesn’t suggest.

It’s difficult to talk about the film as it’s just Die Hard at a prep school. It’s one of the first “Die Hard at” pictures, but Astin has sidekicks so it’s not exact.

The bad guys are South Americans who don’t approve of Hispanic Americans assimilating into white culture, which is interesting. Not sure if Koepp and Petrie came up with that detail themselves or if it’s in the novel. The Mafia and the U.S. Army are the good guys here (the FBI are sort of good guys).

After Astin, the film rests on Lou Gossett. Gossett’s perfect here. This film really showcases his ability–even though he’s a character actor with a persona, he adapts it for any role. It works beautifully here as the tough… but caring dean. Gossett and Elliot only have one scene, but it’s great.

Toy Soldiers is a competent film. It’s just not really any good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr.; screenplay by Petrie and David Koepp, based on the novel by William P. Kennedy; director of photography, Thomas Burstyn; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Robert Folk; production designer, Chester Kaczenski; produced by Jack E. Freedman and Wayne S. Williams; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sean Astin (William ‘Billy’ Tepper), Wil Wheaton (Joseph ‘Joey’ Trotta), Keith Coogan (Jonathan ‘Snuffy’ Bradberry), Andrew Divoff (Luis Cali), R. Lee Ermey (General Kramer), Mason Adams (FBI Dep. Asst. Dir. Otis Brown), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Robert Gould – Headmaster), George Perez (Ricardo Montoya), T.E. Russell (Henry ‘Hank’ Giles III), Shawn Phelan (Derek ‘Yogurt’), Michael Champion (Jack Thorpe) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Dean Edward Parker).


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The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977, Joseph McGrath)

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The Strange Case of the End of the World as We Know It was a TV special, which might explain for the awkward structure. It has the elements of a strong spoof and some excellent scenes, but the pacing is dreadfully off.

It opens with Ron Moody’s Henry Kissinger stand-in being assassinated (no spoilers, it’s the film’s inciting event). Moody’s great in the role, with so much presence he’s the one who establishes the film. Joss Ackland then shows up as Gerald Ford. Ackland’s mildly amusing, but he’s too broad.

After Ackland, Denholm Elliot arrives in the next scene and runs a short sequence. Director McGrath does everything he can to delay the appearance of John Cleese and Arthur Lowe as the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Maybe McGrath’s waiting because he knows there’s not much coming.

Cleese plays Holmes like Basil Fawlty. He even repeats some of the “Fawlty Towers” physical comedy. Lowe’s great as a moronic Watson (the funniest thing in Strange Case has to be the commentary on that relationship). Connie Booth has a small role as the housekeeper and she’s funny too.

But Cleese, saddled with a moron sidekick, is supposed to be too sympathetic. The film’s never mean enough to him.

The end features cameos from various TV detectives. It’s a lengthy sequence with a couple smiles, no laughs; McGrath’s painful when he needs to show modernity.

McGrath’s direction, for television anyway, is good. But Cleese’s non-performance makes the film best avoided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGrath; screenplay by Jack Hobbs, McGrath and John Cleese, based on an idea by Hobbs and McGrath and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Kenneth Higgins; edited by Rusty Coppleman; music by Ivor Slaney; produced by Humphrey Barclay; released by Independent Television.

Starring John Cleese (Arthur Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Lowe (Dr. William Watson, M.D.), Ron Moody (Dr. Henry Gropinger), Joss Ackland (President), Val Pringle (Black CIA Man), Bill Mitchell (Klein), Christopher Malcolm (The Other CIA Man), Gyearbuor Asante (African Delegate), Denholm Elliott (English Delegate), Nick Tate (1st Australian), Josephine Tewson (Miss Hoskins), Burt Kwouk (Chinese Delegate), Stratford Johns (Chief Commisioner Blocker) and Connie Booth (Mrs. Hudson).


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Defence of the Realm (1985, David Drury)

Defence of the Realm starts–and spends about a half hour being–a British variation of the Hollywood newspaper reporter story. There’s the story and the reporter’s dilemma about his morality–there’s even the wise old mentor (Denholm Elliot) for the young reporter getting his first big break (Gabriel Byrne). It’s not particularly good, it’s not particularly bad. Never good enough to care about what’s happening, never bad enough to stop watching–even though Richard Harvey’s musical score has got to be one of the worst I’ve heard in recent memory.

Then it turns in to a British variation on the conspiracy thriller, which is problematic, because Gabriel Byrne’s reporter is the stupidest reporter on to a big case in the cinematic history. He knows he’s being watched, so he hides his notes in full view of the people watching him (checking before and after and seeing they’re watching) and is then upset when they’re gone.

I’m trying to remember what happens in between… bad investigative reporting and general stupidity mostly. It seemed less a film and more a bad TV movie–one trying to mimic more popular films (All the President’s Men) and failing. There’s one amazing scene hinging entirely on Byrne’s lack of hand-eye coordination. Second-billed Greta Scacchi (in essentially a cameo role) tries to help, but she too is unable to accurately control her limbs. It’s such a dumb sequence (precipitated by Bryne being a terrible reporter even), it’s marvelous to watch. There’s the pounding, synthesizer music and the stars trying desperately to manipulate their arms in simple motions.

As it nears conclusion, ripping off Murder by Decree, it almost just goes away painlessly… until the ludicrous ending montage, meant to lionize the free press. Amusingly, these heroes were previously shown as cruel, corrupt and generally unlikable.

The acting is questionable all around. Byrne isn’t particularly believable, Scacchi less. Denholm Elliot’s fine until the script turns against him. Roger Deakins shot the film, but it’s plain, like a TV movie… and director David Drury soon ended up in that industry. But the film could have survived all of the previous defects if it weren’t for writer Martin Stillman’s idiotic script, which just gets stupider and stupider as it goes along.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Drury; written by Martin Stellman; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Richard Harvey; production designer, Roger Murray-Leach; produced by Robin Douet and Lynda Myles; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Nick Mullen), Greta Scacchi (Nina Beckman), Denholm Elliott (Vernon Bayliss), Ian Bannen (Dennis Markham), Fulton Mackay (Victor Kingsbrook), Bill Paterson (Jack Macleod), David Calder (Harry Champion), Frederick Treves (Arnold Reece) and Robbie Coltrane (Leo McAskey).


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