Tag Archives: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

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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The Heroes of Telemark (1965, Anthony Mann)

I was going to start this post saying I’d never seen Richard Harris so young before, but I guess I have seen The Molly Maguires, which was a little later, but he was still young. He’s larger than life in The Heroes of Telemark, nothing like how I’m used to seeing him. He’s got to be larger than life, just so he can appear visible next to Kirk Douglas (as my fiancée pointed out, during their fist fight, “he expects to beat Kirk Douglas?”). Douglas and Harris play Norwegian resistance fighters in World War II, something I’m sure Norwegians were really happy about back when Telemark came out. It’s a British production too.

When I started watching it, I didn’t know what it was about and my World War II knowledge doesn’t go as far north as Norway, so I’d never heard about Telemark or its heroes. The film’s dedication told me though–that these heroes stopped the Nazis from developing the A-bomb first. Right away, since I knew the heroes would be successful, I didn’t get worried. There’s a formula–Kirk Douglas probably won’t die, Richard Harris might die, and all other good guys are fair targets (especially if their wives are pregnant). I think Anthony Mann realized this predetermination was going to play against him, so he turned the sabotage scene into a tribute of the resistance fighters’ hardships. Long scenes of them cross-country skiing to the target (if anyone is ever looking for good, filmed cross-country skiing, Telemark is the film to see), difficult repelling, rough terrain. The sequence feels long (I didn’t time it) and Mann succeeds… except the resistance fighters don’t.

Since I didn’t know the actual history, just the opening’s recount of victory, I had no idea what was coming next, which is when the film started to get interesting. Douglas, who spent the first half of the film seducing women–the irresistible physicist–starts acting in the second half. Harris, who was good in the first half, unfortunately disappears. The film only gets a little better, but it’s free of its initial expectations, which at least makes it interesting.

When the film started and I saw Anthony Mann’s name, I got him confused with Nicholas Ray. Now I’m looking at their filmographies and both started in noir cheapies, so now I don’t know why I was confusing them… Mann’s all right, but Telemark is from the era when models were out and original footage was in. So instead of model bombers, there’s real bomber footage on different film stock. For some reason, it really bugged me in Telemark, but it often bugs me. The use of that footage draws the viewer out of the film, reminds them there’s something going on besides the film. Never a good thing. (I know why it’s on my mind, Mogambo had the same problem).

Telemark’s storytelling is too formulaic not to be aware its formulaic. There’s an artificial earnestness to the film and it’s hard to take that earnestness seriously, when Douglas is groping every woman in sight… though I’m sure its one of the reasons he took the role. I read his first autobiography, but I can’t remember. As an example of the extinct war thriller genre, Telemark isn’t bad. It’s better than many of them. But, for example, as a Kirk Douglas film, it’s bad. Douglas started making bad films around this point. Telemark’s not the bottom, but it’s on the way downhill.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Mann; screenplay by Ben Barzman and Ivan Moffat, based on books by John Drummond and Knut Haukelid; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Bert Bates; music by Malcolm Arnold; produced by Benjamin Fisz; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Dr. Rolf Pedersen), Richard Harris (Knut Straud), Ulla Jacobsson (Anna Pedersen), Michael Redgrave (Uncle), David Weston (Arne), Sebastian Breaks (Gunnar), John Golightly (Freddy), Alan Howard (Oli), Patrick Jordan (Henrik), William Marlowe (Claus), Brook Williams (Einar) and Roy Dotrice (Jensen).


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