BLOW. (2001) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

blow mirtha mugshot

BLOW. (2001) DIRECTED BY TED DEMME. BASED ON THE 1993 BOOK BY BRUCE PORTER: BLOW: HOW A SMALL-TOWN BOY MADE $100 MILLION WITH THE MEDELLIN COCAINE CARTEL AND LOST IT ALL.

STARRING JOHNNY DEPP, PENELOPE CRUZ, FRANKA POTENTE, ETHAN SUPLEE, PAUL REUBENS, JORDI MOLLA, CLIFF CURTIS, BOBCAT GOLDTHWAITE, LOLA GLAUDINI, RACHEL GRIFFITHS AND RAY LIOTTA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This portrayal of drug-taking and drug-dealing is nearly as sexy and glamorous as that achieved by Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE (1983). The format and narrative voice-overs are reminiscent of GOODFELLAS, and that movie’s lead actor, Ray Liotta, is here in person, not as the criminal this time but as the criminal’s Dad.

Now Ray Liotta himself is playing the over-worked ’50s/60s Pops who’s trying- and failing- to inculcate a certain values system, his own, into his son, but his son doesn’t even want to know.

All the son sees is the lure and glamour of easy money, not caring a jot that when you live by the sword, you’re frequently called upon to die by it too. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? You’ll love this film, if you don’t already.

Johnny Depp plays real-life drug-dealer George Jung who, in the ’60s, grew up and moved from his home city of Boston, Massachusetts, to the beaches of California. Here he met and married his first beautiful wife Barbara and, together with his best mate from childhood, the rather fishily-nicknamed Tuna, became the go-to person on the beaches from whom to buy your pot. Marijuana. Mary-Jane. Weed. Grass. Whatever.

Greed seems to be George’s main problem. He goes into the weed business initially with a friend of Barbara’s called Derek Foreal, a fantastically camp, bitchy hairdresser who’s a hard-headed businessman underneath all the kitsch.

When George proves to have a really prodigious talent for selling drugs, however, the temptation to become the world’s premiere importer of Colombian cocaine is too hard to resist. He meets Pablo Escobar, the Cocaine King, and goes into business with him and everything, with an introduction from George’s mate Diego Delgado, with whom he’s done some time in prison.

Prison, by the way, seems to be just some kind of crime school for guys like George. He admits himself that he went into prison with a Diploma in weed and came out with a PHD in cocaine. So much for rehabilitation, anyway.

The Colombian drug business is a freakin’ terrifying one. Life is cheap in Colombia, we’re told, and we see a man being murdered literally the instant the tall, moustached and outwardly charming Pablo Escobar hoves into sight. Yes, I admit, I was a little attracted to him here…!

The scene where George meets Pablo and works out a system of drug deals with him is like the scene in SCARFACE where Tony Montana does the same with Bolivian cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa. In SCARFACE during this scene, F. Murray Abraham as Omar Suarez meets a horrible death at the hands of Sosa’s henchmen. You do not fuck with these guys. Ever.

Things get really sexy and glamorous when George meets Mirtha, played by the most beautiful actress in the world today, Penelope Cruz. She was unbelievably gorgeous with Tom Cruise in VANILLA SKY.

Here, she plays the stunning fiancée of one of the drug-dealers George does business with. If it weren’t for the fact that George enjoys the dubious protection of Pablo Escobar himself, this guy would have gutted George like a fish for stealing his ho.

George and Mirtha have a tempestuous relationship. Mirtha is a bit like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock character in SCARFACE. Beautiful, stick-thin, addicted to drink and drugs, empty inside but desperately trying to fill that void with glamour, danger and endless excitement. They have a daughter together, Kristina Sunshine Jung, who’s the light of George’s life but, while he’s still dealing drugs, he’s only going to keep on letting her down.

When his friends Diego and Derek Foreal cut a separate drug deal together that leaves George with only the shaft, George decides to get out of the drugs business forever. Is it that simple? Can it be done? Or will the promise of just one more big deal lure him back in the game? Mirtha is not a cheap wife to keep, and she and Kristina are George’s responsibility.

When his millions of dollars accumulated from all the drug deals he’s made are literally stolen by the Panamanian government, George becomes desperate for cash. Should he pull off one last job? He owes Mirtha child support and alimony, and she’s making noises about keeping Kristina away from him unless he coughs up pronto. One more quick drug deal should do the trick. Shouldn’t it…?

Rachel Griffiths is great here as George’s awful Mum. She’s obsessed with money and the price of everything, and she’s mortified that her only son is a drug dealer for a living. ‘What are you looking at, Mrs. Gracie? Your son’s no prize!’

Ray Liotta as George’s Dad, however, loves his only son to bits and is prepared to maintain contact with him despite what George does for a living. The relationship between George and his Dad and between George and his daughter are the two bright spots in George’s life.

I always feel really, really sorry for George at the end of the film because it’s Johnny Depp in a padded-out shirt to give him a paunch, but I need to remind myself that George got himself into that pitiful position by selling drugs.

Drugs. The drugs that would have been ruining hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of peoples’ lives while George got richer and richer off the back of it. Everything that happened to him, he seems to have brought it on himself.

But oh my God, it’s a long-haired Johnny Depp in a padded-out shirt! Can’t I please just cut him a teensy-weensy break here…? Lol. It’s hard to feel contempt or disgust for anyone who’s played by the divine Johnny Depp.

The film has a fantastic ‘Seventies soundtrack. The songs they’ve chosen are perfect for montages, whether it be the taking drugs montages or the getting-rich-quick montages. While watching the film for the first time back in about 2003, I had a kind of personal epiphany during Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded By The Light’ and decided to actively turn my life around after a bad break-up.

That’s a really clear example of a song’s power to change someone’s life for the better. Well, it was mostly for the better. I kissed an awful lotta frogs during this period but it eventually led me to something wonderful so I can’t complain.

God, why are films about drug-dealers always so goddamned sexy? They glamorise drug-taking and drug-dealing and make you envy the lifestyle, the houses, the cars, the private planes and the sunshine islands, the sexy consorts, the perks, the prizes, the rich pickings.

It’s all built on sand, though, and can collapse at any minute. It’s a house of sand and fog, lol. Please remember that when you sell your first bag of weed to a dopey stoned teenager. Now, preaching time is over. Watch this film. You’ll love it.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

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THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER. (2000) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

ripper gregory oldfield

THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER. (2000) STARRING ALUN ARMSTRONG, JAMES LAURENSON, RICHARD RIDINGS, SUE CLEAVER AND CRAIG CHEETHAM.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The Yorkshire Ripper: ‘I’ve been killing all these women.’

The Ripper’s wife: ‘What have you done that for?’

This gripping and absorbing piece of work was originally a two-part crime drama mini-series made for television in 1999. It’s based on the murderous career of the man who became known as ‘the Yorkshire Ripper,’ after Jack the Ripper, the killer who’d snuffed out the lives of five prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London nearly a century before in 1888.

The Yorkshire Ripper operated from the mid-‘Seventies (some say even earlier than this, as far back as 1969, maybe) till 1981 in the north-east area of England. He eventually turned out to be a transport worker from Bradford called Peter William Sutcliffe, an ordinary, rather weedy-looking fellow whom you wouldn’t look twice at if you passed him in the street, that’s how unremarkable he looked.

He’s still alive now at the age of seventy-two or three, doing a number of life sentences for the brutal murder of thirteen women, some prostitutes but not all. One woman worked for a building society and another was just a sixteen-year-old student when she was struck down by this petty little beast of a man. Calling him a monster might just imbue him with a tad too much importance for my liking.

The fact remains, however, that he held the whole of that part of England in the grip of a terrible fear for several years and I bet he loved the power it gave him, the little weasel. Sorry, I’m not being very impartial here, am I, but some of the stories told in the film are just so unbelievably heart-rending.

The small children of one of the victims, one Wilma McCann, were found wandering the streets of their neighbourhood, freezing in their pyjamas, the morning after Wilma was murdered, searching for their Mum who hadn’t come home the night before. It hardly bears thinking about, does it?

Peter Sutcliffe came up on the women from behind, like the cowardly creep he was, in lonely or deserted areas like parks or wasteground, and then he bludgeoned them on the head with a ballpeen hammer.

Then, once they were down on the ground and probably dying, he eviscerated them with a knife to the abdominal and even vaginal areas. That last bit is very similar to what Jack the Ripper did.

Peter Sutcliffe would tear off or pull up/down/off their underwear, but he never usually interfered with the women sexually. This implies something derogatory about him that I’d love to say but I’m going to exercise some restraint here. You know what I mean though, right? The prick.

After the Ripper had been killing for a while, George Oldfield of the West Yorkshire Police, masterfully played by Alun Armstrong, was brought in to spearhead the campaign against the killer by Chief Constable Ronald Gregory (James Laurenson). It was a campaign that cost Oldfield his health, as he ran himself ragged trying to find the man responsible for the brutal deaths of so many women.

He also kind of lost his job in a way because, once a long time had elapsed and the killer still hadn’t been found, Oldfield was moved ‘sideways’ by Gregory into something called ‘Support Services.’ This basically meant, as Oldfield said himself, that he’d be responsible for dogs and horses, while going back ‘into uniform’ to do it.

Oldfield’s colleague and friend, Dick Holland, however, kept looking for the man who’d come to dominate both their lives and, when the killer was eventually caught, there was one of those heartening scenes you get in crime dramas where someone comes rushing into the Incident Room shouting: ‘We’ve got him, we’ve got the bastard!’ and everyone cheers like crazy. Here they toned the expletive down to ‘bugger,’ but the effect was the same.

The Ripper was eventually caught almost by accident. The cops were constantly trawling the red- light areas in Leeds and Bradford because that’s where the Ripper picked up his victims. One night, they picked up this guy with a prostitute. They discovered that he had false number-plates on his car and so, thinking that this was a bit suspicious, they ran him down the station for a spot of questioning.

When they discovered that he’d twice used the excuse of having to go for a pee to ditch a ballpeen hammer and a knife from his wife’s kitchen block, they knew they had someone in their custody who was just a little bit more significant than your average john…

This all sounds similar to the way that American serial killer Ted Bundy was caught. Stopping Bundy for a motoring offence, the arresting officers wondered why he’d need what looked like a set of burglary-cum-rape tools, including a pantyhose ski-mask and a crowbar, if he was just the ordinary everyday citizen he was claiming to be.

The Ripper case was the case, I think, that really caused computers to start being used in England for the widespread solving of crime. Hundreds of policemen and women spent hundreds of hours inputting probably thousands of pieces of information into dozens of computers.

The Ripper used a car to pick up his victims, so the police were taking the registration numbers of all the cars they spotted in the red-light districts and putting them into their brand-new computers, then cross-referencing them against other names and numbers that kept coming up time and again.

Peter Sutcliffe’s name came up several times during the course of the investigation. He was even interviewed up to about nine times by the police and then written off as being not a likely suspect.

According to this film, though, there were men who were interviewed or picked up many more times than this and considered likelier suspects than Peter Sutcliffe. Every time Peter Sutcliffe’s name comes up on the computer screens in the film, I wanted to yell, that’s him, you’ve got him! But of course no-one ever listens in TV land…

Remember how, in the case of Jack the Ripper, both the police and the leader of a group of vigilantes formed to catch the killer were sent letters or grisly ‘souvenirs’ by someone purporting to be the killer? Same with the Yorkshire Ripper.

Letters were sent with a Sunderland postmark from someone claiming to be the killer and, most astonishingly of all, a tape was sent to George Oldfield by someone who spoke with a ‘Geordie accent.’ He told George, amongst other things, that: ‘I have the greatest of respect for you, George, but you’re no nearer catching me now than you were four years ago.’

Serial killers often become obsessed with the detective assigned to catch them and, in some cases, they even try to make contact with them. This is why this film is called THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER: THIS IS PERSONAL, because to George Oldfield, it was personal.

He’d been personally name-checked by a man he thought was the killer. He was determined to redouble his efforts to find the man, even if it killed him, and some would say that it probably very nearly did. Certainly he had a heart attack during the investigation.

I listened to this extraordinary tape myself and I was convinced that only the real Yorkshire Ripper could have recorded something so low-key and calmly authentic-sounding as this tape. The tape was later found to be a hoax, but it sent chills down my spine when I heard it and I reckon it would again, if I were to listen to it in the future.

Sue Cleaver (Eileen Grimshaw from CORONATION STREET; you know, Todd and Jason’s Mum) plays Dick Holland’s second Missus, Sylvia. Also, I could nearly swear to it that the beautiful Kimberley Walsh (GIRLS ALOUD, STRICTLY COME DANCING) plays George’s school-age daughter Gillian, who’s studying for exams in the film. (Just checked; it’s Kimbers all right!)

What really comes home to you in this excellent drama series, and others of the same calibre, is that the men and women who catch serial killers and try their best to keep the streets safe for everyone usually have families of their own, which they put on the back burner while the killers are still at large.

George and his wife had a daughter who died very young of leukaemia and they never got over the pain of that, but George had to put that aside to do his job, a very hard job where the Press and the public will castigate you and even tear you to shreds if you get it wrong, as sometimes happens, and the killer goes free to kill again.

One thing I didn’t like about the drama is the way that the victims of the Ripper’s who weren’t prostitutes were referred to as ‘innocent girls.’ They were all innocent, weren’t they? Prostitutes have such a dangerous job, and I doubt if any one of them do it for the excitement or to meet men.

They’re natural victims because of the danger and the illegality of what they do. When you operate illegally, you don’t have the protection of the police and that’s scary. The prostitutes who were killed had every much a right to life as the other women who were killed by this little runt of a man. I’d apply the word ‘innocent’ to all his victims myself.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

MOBY DICK. (1956) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

moby dick bones

MOBY DICK. BASED ON THE NOVEL BY HERMAN MELVILLE. DIRECTED BY JOHN HUSTON. STARRING GREGORY PECK, RICHARD BASEHART, LEO GENN, HARRY ANDREWS, NOEL PURCELL, JOSEPH TOMELTY, FRIEDRICH VON LEDEBUR, IRIS TREE AND ORSON WELLES.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘From Hell’s heart I stab at thee…’

Written sometime in 1850 and including factual details picked up by the author whilst on a whaling voyage he undertook in 1841, MOBY DICK or THE WHALE is considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time, never mind just the greatest American one.

I have the book here beside me as I write this, although I must confess that I haven’t yet read it. This, despite the fact that the inscription on the fly-leaf reminds me that I bought it in 2009, lol. The problem is that the technical detail on the physical practice of whaling takes up a large part of the book and it’s probably that alone which has prevented me from reading it thus far.

I’d find such endless detail tiresome and even gruesome, given that it deals with the slaughter of the beautiful whales themselves. It’s upsetting even in the film to see the sailors harpooning these majestic beasts of the sea, but back then, I suppose they had no other way of acquiring the lamp oil to light up their homes and businesses. Where do they get it from nowadays? I haven’t got a Blue’s Clues…

The film, a cracking adventure movie the quality of which you’d be hard pushed to find the likes of today, tells the story of a personable young seafaring man called Ishmael. Ishmael has a longing to go on another sea voyage but, not only that, this time around he wants to learn the trade of whaling as well.

He fetches up in an American sea-port called New Bedford, where he asks Peter Coffin, the landlord of the local tavern, to put him up for the night. Oh sure, says the landlord genially, it’s no problem so long as you don’t mind sharing a bed. No bother, says Ishmael. Clearly this kind of thing wasn’t unusual back then. Nowadays, you’d be a bit put out, I daresay.

His bed-fellow is the most unusual person Ishmael has ever met. A so-called ‘cannibal’ from one of the islands where ‘savages’ live, Quee-queg, a chief in his own tribe, is six foot seven inches in height and tattooed all over his stern face and manly chest, kind of like the way a Maori might be but not exactly. Quee-queg has only limited English but it’s enough to get by, and he enjoys looking at sea-faring pictures in books.

After initially being scared half to death by the gigantic ‘cannibal’ with the harpoon and the shrunken heads in his luggage, Ishmael takes an immediate liking to the pipe-smoking, heathenish Quee-queg. ‘Better a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.’ The liking is mutual and the pair resolve to go whaling together on the same ship. Off they go down to the docks together for a look-see to suss out what’s on offer in the whaling line.

They end up on the PEQUOD, a whaling ship that has as its crew the same jolly lads with whom Ishmael danced and drank on his first night at Peter Coffin’s inn. Ishmael and Quee-queg sign up and go aboard, but not before an odd-looking fellow loitering on the docks tells them that their ship, in fact their entire voyage, is doomed. Just what you want to hear when you’re about to set sail, right? Right.

One day while they’re at sea, he tells the pair, they’ll smell land where there is no land. On that day, he continues ominously, the ship’s captain, Captain Ahab, will go to his watery grave but then he’ll rise again and beckon, and the entire crew, save one only, will follow him unto death. It’s enough to give you the shivers.

Cheerio then, he says, or as good as, and saunters off, leaving the two lads flummoxed. They don’t know what to make of this mad fella and his zany predictions at all at all. And what was the fella’s name, anyway? You might well ask. Elijah ring any bells with you guys…?

The mysterious Captain Ahab, who doesn’t show himself to his curious crew until the PEQUOD is well out to sea, is brilliantly played by Gregory Peck (TO KILL A MOCKING-BIRD, etc.). A huge white whale- Moby Dick- once upon a time tore off his left leg, for which he now has an ivory substitute, and scarred his face for life.

A normal person would just thank their lucky stars that they’re still alive, and try to adjust to their prosthetic limb as best they could. Captain Ahab is not a normal person, however. He’s as mad as a box of frogs. He’s on the hunt for the white whale, so that he can kill it and avenge himself for the lost leg and ruined face.

He’ll give a Spanish gold doubloon to the man who first spots Moby Dick. What’s more, he gets the crew all hyped up on grog and menacing threats of ‘Death to Moby Dick! Death to Moby Dick!’ He’s determined to infect the crew with his own afflictions. The very thought of Moby Dick is like a cancer in his soul. He’s really got it bad, this guy.

Out there on the ocean, in the blazing heat of the noonday sun, the men get all caught up in the Captain’s madness, much to the alarm of Mr. Starbuck. This is Captain Ahab’s second-in-command and the only sane person on board the PEQUOD. I don’t know what he’s so worried about. He can always fall back on the money from his family’s legendary chain of coffee shops if he loses his job on the ship.

Some of the scenes that follow are really gripping. There’s the lookout falling into the sea and the men not being able to find a trace of him. ‘It’s as if the sea just swallowed him up,’ says Laughing Stubb, Carefree Stubb, but Stubb (played by Harry Andrews from ICE COLD IN ALEX) ain’t laughing nor carefree no more. Not over this. It’s too eerie, too disturbing.

There’s Quee-queg seeing his own death in the bones that he throws, then giving away to Ishmael all his worldly possessions- ‘Money yours, harpoon yours.’- and commissioning the ship’s carpenter, played by Irish actor Noel Purcell, to build him a durable coffin. ‘No water get in.’ Little Pip chanting ‘Quee-queg gon’ away,’ little knowing who’s going to be accompanying Quee-queg on his journey into the unknown.

There’s Captain Ahab ‘catching St. Elmo’s Fire by the tail’ and Mr. Starbuck trying to interest some of the crew in a mutiny, as the ship is no longer being used for its original purpose of whaling, but solely to pursue Ahab’s crazy vendetta against Moby Dick. Sorry mate, that’s the Bounty you’ll be wanting, is what they should have answered Mr. Starbuck with…!

Have you ever seen that episode of THE SIMPSONS where Homer tries to avenge himself against the bear that humiliated him in front of the whole town and got him featured on the KENT’S COWARDS slot of the local Channel 6 News?

‘Dad,’ Lisa Simpson sagely comments, ‘if MOBY DICK has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t get revenge against an animal!’ Does Homer listen to his know-it-all daughter? Not so much. Well, on his own head be it, then, if he goes ahead with his bonkers scheme to bring Tubby Bear to a grisly/grizzly end. See what I did there?

The scenes of Moby Dick himself are simply magnificent. The white whale is enormous, the kind of thing you might see in your nightmares, a veritable ‘mountain of snow.’ (Good news for cocaine users, lol, a mountain of ‘snow’ that no-one can legally lay claim to and which is therefore there for the taking!) 

The film’s ending is one of the most memorable in cinema history, so I won’t spoil it for you. I think Elijah the Big Fat Blabbermouth so-called Prophet might have taken care of that already, lol. Nice one, Lije…

Orson Welles has an important four-minute cameo- yes, I timed it!- in the film as Father Mapple, the minister who gives a sermon  from the pulpit of his little church to all those heading out to sea. It’s a handy way of calling down God’s blessing on your little nautical endeavours. The pulpit is composed of the front bit of a ship, the bit where you have the masthead, and the minister has a rope ladder to get up and down by, just like in a ship. It’s beyond cool.

All over the church are memorials to the local men who lost their lives whaling. So many memorials. So many lost men. You’d wonder at Ishmael and his pals, rushing blithely off to do a job that’s so damned dangerous. They can’t all be trying to evade paying their child support. Or can they? You know what, 1850 or 2050, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

SCARFACE: THE ORIGINAL VERSION. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scarface 1932

SCARFACE: THE 1932 GANGSTER CLASSIC. BASED ON THE 1929 BOOK ‘SCARFACE’ BY ARMITAGE TRAIL, WHICH PORTRAYS THE LIFE OF AL CAPONE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HOWARD HAWKS.

STARRING PAUL MUNI, GEORGE RAFT, OSGOOD PERKINS, ANN DVORAK, INEZ PALANGE, KAREN MORLEY, VINCE BARNETT AND BORIS KARLOFF.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

For years and years and years, I didn’t even know that there was an original version of the 1983 gangster movie, Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. This 1983 version is not only one of the best gangster movies of all time, but one of the best movies ever made, full stop. Or period, as our lovely transatlantic cousins the ‘Muricans say. But over here, you see, the word ‘period’ means something different altogether…

A lucky charity shop find this Christmas means that I now own the original 1932 film as well as its deliciously decadent and dangerous 1983 counterpart. As a gangster movie, SCARFACE 1932 is a real cracker, but when you’ve already seen the Al Pacino film, it’s even more fascinating because then you can see what the two films have in common and also where they differ.

SCARFACE 1932 has Paul Muni, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 1935 movie THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR, playing the lead role of Scarface. He’s Tony Camonte, an Italian-American hoodlum in Chicago in the Prohibition era. Once you see him back-answering the Chief of Police at the start of the film, you know he’s got the swagger and style needed to carry off the lead role.

At the outset, a Mob boss called Louis Costillo is shot and murdered- by Tony- because he’s gotten soft and sloppy. Johnny Lovo is the weedy-looking, slyly-moustached criminal who then slides neatly over into the position of ‘Boss.’ He’s the Frank Lopez/Robert Loggia character from the 1983 film.

Johnny Lovo is ably backed up by Tony, an up-and-coming young hoodlum, and Tony’s coin-flipping best friend Guino Rinaldi, whom Tony nicknames ‘Little Boy.’ Guino is the Manny Ribera/Steven Bauer sidekick character from the 1983 re-make.

I love the way that Tony and Guino do business. It’s all about cracking heads and instilling fear, see? It’s Prohibition time in Chicago Town and Tony and Guino simply go round to all the bars/speak-easies in town and say to their owners, after strong-arming them into the back-room: ‘Hey dickhead, where ya getting your bootleg booze from?’

After the terrified owners stammer out a reply, Tony then informs them: ‘Yeah well, ya getting it from us now, asswipe. How many barrels ya want?’ And when the guy tells ’em he normally gets three or four barrels a day, Tony comes back at them with: ‘Yeah well, ya getting ten now.’ When the barman starts blubbing that ten is too many barrels, Tony comes out with: ‘I’ll bring ya round a bar of soap, knobhead. Ya can take a bath in it…’ So funny.

Tony meets Poppy, his boss Johnny’s ‘broad’ and the Elvira Hancock/Michelle Pfeiffer character from SCARFACE 1983. Poppy is a stunning ‘Twenties blonde whom Tony first sees seated at her dressing-table in her slip, bare-legged, powdering herself languidly. He likes what he sees and he goes all out to get it.

Luckily for Tony Camonte, Poppy is more receptive to him than the world-weary, bored and jaded Elvira Hancock is to Tony Montana. He’s obviously way more attractive to her than the much older Johnny Lovo, who looks like a moral weakling in his little sleazy Fredo Corleone moustache.

Poppy is ripe for the taking and so, thinks Tony excitedly, is Johnny’s booze business. I love this scene in the middle of the night where Tony wakes up Poppy in her bed of silken sheets:

Poppy: ‘Tony, where’s Johnny?’

Tony, ominously: ‘Where d’ya think?’ Allows this to sink in for a minute, then: ‘Pack your stuff.’

Tony has a little sister in this version too, Cesca, an absolute knockout of a ‘Twenties broad with dark curly hair and huge dark eyes like Gina/Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the re-make.

Cesca, just like Gina, is happy to take Tony’s blood money and spend it on clothes and going out dancing with dubious characters. Tony and Cesca’s Mamma, however, is all of-a-flutter, telling Cesca that Tony is nothing but trouble and so is his tainted money.

There’s the merest suggestion- but it is there- that Tony behaves more like a boyfriend than a brother to Cesca. She’s as feisty and mouthy as the 1983 Gina character and she gives him plenty of lip, but there’s nothing she can say- nothing anyone can say- to placate him when he finds out about Cesca and Guino, his sister and his best friend…

Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) has a small role here as the gangster Gaffney, who narrowly escapes slaughter at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre but who gets his come-uppance later while bowling- or trying to!- a perfect game.

I was surprised to see him in such a small part and so far down the credits, after his humongous worldwide success as Frankenstein’s Monster. Angelo, Tony’s ‘seckertary’ who can never accurately take a telephone message, is kind of a sweet, lovable character, considering he’s a gangster’s sidekick.

Machine-guns play a big part in the film. When Tony discovers that such magnificent weapons exist, he nearly wets himself with excitement. It’s a sad day for the law-abiding citizens of Chicago, however, when these terrible guns are invented. Men, women and children are being caught in the cross-fire, mown down ruthlessly by these guns, and the gangsters who wield them don’t give a shit about any casualties.

There’s a distinct anti-gangster message being put across by the film-makers (‘What are YOU going to do about it?’). But the problem with making a film like this is that you can’t avoid glamorising the criminals and their awful criminal acts. In fact, this was what they unintentionally did do in this 1932 film.

Well, never mind, they weren’t the only ones. After watching the 1983 version of the film- one of the sexiest, most glamorous films ever made- I bet a million young lads everywhere ran straight down to the job-centre and applied to be a cocaine kingpin. Me, I wanted to be a cocaine kingpin’s moll and wear Michelle Pfeiffer’s dresses…!

THE WORLD IS YOURS, the slogan that appeals so much to Scarface in the 1983 film, turns up here first. It’s astonishing how many of the brilliant scenes from the 1983 film have their genesis, their beginnings, here.

The DVD I have of the 1932 film features two endings, so you can decide for yourself which one you like the best. Both are actually equally chilling. You can convey quite a surprising amount of fear with just a pair of prison-issue slippers.

I’m so pleased with my accidental charity shop find. Mind you, that’s where I’ve found all the gems of my collection so far, in charity shops on shelves next to the ‘faulty electrical goods and jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing.’ (LITTLE BRITAIN!) It pays to keep your eyes open. And ya mouth shut, as Tony Camonte would probably add. We hear ya, Tone, loud and clear. We hear ya.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE BOUNTY. (1984) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

bounty girl

THE BOUNTY. (1984) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘CAPTAIN BLIGH AND MR. CHRISTIAN’ (1972) BY RICHARD HOUGH. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: DINO DE LAURENTIIS. DIRECTED BY ROGER DONALDSON. ORIGINAL MUSIC BY VANGELIS.

STARRING MEL GIBSON, ANTHONY HOPKINS, LIAM NEESON, DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, PHILIP DAVIS, NEIL MORRISSEY, BERNARD HILL, EDWARD FOX AND LAURENCE OLIVIER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I will probably always prefer the Marlon Brando-Trevor Howard version of this story to any other. It has that hilarious scene in it where Marlon Brando, hand tucked regally Nelson-style into his naval officer’s jacket, sails off from his anchored ship to the island of Tahiti to have sex, for King and country, of course, with the Tahitian king’s beautiful daughter. Talk about it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it…! That’s a great version of this gripping story, but the Mel Gibson-Anthony Hopkins pairing isn’t half-bad either.

It’s late in the eighteenth century or early in the nineteenth, and a committee of really high-up naval officers, the main two played by Laurence Olivier and Edward Fox, are meeting to decide the fate of one Captain Bligh, who had his ship, the HMS BOUNTY, taken from him forcibly during a mutiny by some of his crew members. Bligh tells them the story of what happened aboard that fateful ship. Here is his story, in my words, if you get me.

It’s a few years earlier now, and the good ship HMS BOUNTY is sailing from jolly old England to Tahiti, where the crew will pick up a cargo of bread-fruit plants to bring back home with them for some reason. I forget what they’re going to be using them for. Like, are they food or what? Are they bread or are they fruit?

Anthony Hannibal Lecter Hopkins is the captain of this happy ship, Captain Bligh, and he can count Mel Gibson and Daniel Day-Lewis amongst his officers. He’s not aristocratic like them though, see, which rankles a bit with old Bligh. He can’t do the talking-with-a-mouthful-of-plums thing like they can or the easy aristocratic confidence that comes naturally to real toffs like them.

A ridiculously young-looking Bernard Hill (BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF, King Theodan of Rohan in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS) is the man who whips people when Captain Bligh tells him to, and excuse me if I think that he seems to enjoy his job. He certainly never shirks it, at any rate.

Liam Neeson, the Liam Neeson, and a very young Neil Morrissey (MEN BEHAVING BADLY and some other stuff) are two trouble-making and rebellious young crew-members. Personally, I think they’re just lazy.

They don’t like having to attend Captain Bligh’s on-board compulsory dance classes (‘We’re sailors, not dancers!’), which proves my point. If they could get away with it, they’d spend their years at sea swilling down grog and telling dirty stories about women, but there’ll be none of that nonsense on Captain Bligh’s watch. He runs a tight ship.

Captain Bligh is actually quite reasonable in this version, I feel, until they get to Tahiti, or Big Titty Island if you prefer, because the women here are all fetchingly topless as well as dusky and uniformly beautiful with long glossy dark hair. The sex-starved men of the HMS BOUNTY go nuts for the titty and the totty.

What’s really surprising is that the native males of Big Titty Island don’t seem to mind one bit that their women are being bonked senseless and even impregnated by these English sailors.

In fact, they even seem to encourage it, and the king of Big Titty Island even sends one of his many wives over to the ship to have sex with Captain Bligh who, in a very witty little scene, spurns her attentions.

This is because Captain Bligh is quite uptight and strait-laced in matters of the flesh. Also, he might even feel guilty about it because he’s got a wife and kids at home. A moral man? Mein Gott. Do those even exist…?

The real problems for Captain Bligh arise when he and his crew are obliged to drop anchor at Big Titty Island for several months, in order to wait for the bread-fruits to grow and flourish.

His crew have pretty much said goodbye to naval discipline and hello to sexual excesses, lazing around smoking and drinking in the sunshine and getting native tattoos on their scarcely-clad, sun-bronzed bodies. Captain Bligh is sickened by their animalistic behaviour.

They’re meant to be restrained, reserved and stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen who most certainly do not copulate with native women on the sand in full view of anyone who might be looking. Goddammit, they’re English, aren’t they?

Bligh seems to have a problem with Mel Gibson’s Fletcher Christian, his supposed good friend from way back, most of all. Fletcher has found love (it looks like sex to me, but whatever) on the island with the king’s beautiful daughter, and he wants nothing more than to lie in her arms on the beach forever, making love until the tide comes in and wraps their naked, writhing bodies in its foamy caresses. Told you it was just sex, didn’t I…?

Bligh orders Fletcher back to the ship and away from his girlfriend, and makes him cover his new and still very painful tattoo with his uncomfortably hot and heavy naval jacket, in the sweltering heat of the cabin where the officers’ have dinner on the dot of six every night. Bligh is determined to impose rigid discipline upon his raggle-taggle crew, who have grown soft and sloppy after several months on Big Titty Island.

After three deserters are caught (Liam Neeson amongst them, the little rascal) and severely lashed by the whipping arm of an enthusiastic Bernard Hill, morale is dreadfully low amongst the crew, who all miss their- probably- pregnant girlfriends back on the Island.

Fletcher Christian has already been informed by the king that he’s impregnated the king’s daughter, so there will be a lot of mixed-race babies born before the year is out. The weird thing is that the king, along with all the men on Big Titty Island, are totally fine about these little ‘ooopsies.’ I guess people in different places do things differently.

When Bligh informs his crew that he’s taking an extremely dangerous short-cut home to England, and that a crew-member who objects is to be lashed on the morrow (that’s just an olde-timey way of saying tomorrow, lol), Fletcher and the lads have had enough of his brutal tyranny. They take the ship away from him in an act of mutiny that will remain a blot on their characters, not to mention their naval copybooks, till the end of time…

Anthony Hopkins is such a good actor that he can totally take these younger actors to school, and he certainly does this here. He’s just brilliant as the so-called despot who has a wife and two children at home and who’s just trying to do his job and get his ship from A to B and then back to A again without damaging too many of the precious bloody bread-fruits.

Yes, he’s too heavy-handed with the lash and he’s even a bit petty-minded at times as well but, overall, I think he’s less despotic than Trevor Howard was as Captain Bligh in the Marlon Brando version of the film.

Bligh’s obsessive quest for personal glory- all that ‘going around the Horn’ and trying to ‘circumnavigate the globe in x amount of time’ stuff is bang out of order once it starts affecting the men, but apart from that, I think he’s a genuinely decent guy who’s just trying to get home to the wife and kids in the fastest way possible. And if he happens to get into the Guinness Book Of Records for doing it in the quickest time ever achieved, well then, so much the better.

Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian (‘I. AM. IN. HELL…!’) has astonishingly lovely eyes, and he has other nice things as well but, unfortunately, you don’t get to see much of them in this film. Booooooooo!

It’s a great little maritime movie, though, with some gorgeous scenery and views of the horizon. Christmas is a terrific time for watching this kind of epic swashbuckley film, so check it out if you can. And take a jacket if you ever find yourself on Big Titty Island. It can get a bit nippy…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

SCARFACE, CARLITO’S WAY and SERPICO: A TRIPLE BILL OF AL PACINO GANGSTER-AND-COP MOVIE REVIEWS FROM SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scarface wedding

SCARFACE (1983); CARLITO’S WAY (1993); and SERPICO (1973); A TRIPLE REVIEW OF AL PACINO GANGSTER-AND-COP MOVIES BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Al Pacino was such a handsome guy in the ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s. In SCARFACE, he plays Tony Montana, one of the ‘Cuban boat people’ whom Fidel Castro let go from Cuba in the early ’80s. They went straight to America and made themselves comfortable there, or at least Tony Montana did, by selling drugs and being a part of what Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira later on in the film refers to as ‘the Cuban crime wave.’

Tony Montana goes from being a humble dishwasher in Miami, Florida to being a guy who works for a druglord to being the druglord himself, living in a fabulous mansion with a real tiger prowling by the lake in his garden and a beautiful woman- Elvira, poached from Tony’s former boss Frank Lopez- by his side.

Of course, the bigger he becomes in the drug world himself, the bigger his enemies become (Alejandro Sosa and his silent assassin, The Skull, to name but two) and the bigger the downfall waiting for him at the end, by which time he’s ‘so high on his own supply’ that he hardly knows which way is up. Scarface’s downfall is surely one of the most magnificent in the history of cinema, and with the best music also, supplied by the King of Electronics, Giorgio Moroder.

Robert Loggia plays Tony’s first drugs boss, Frank Lopez, and F. Murray Abraham is Frank’s sleazy sidekick Omar Suarez, who enjoys a pleasant helicopter ride courtesy of Bolivian cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa halfway through the film. Frank is only small-time compared to what Tony eventually becomes. Frank’s humiliation is completed when Tony steals his glamorous mistress Elvira away from him.

(Here’s a wee snippet you might not know about Paul Shenar, who plays Alejandro Sosa, Tony’s main antagonist in the film. Apparently, he was in a relationship with British actor Jeremy Brett in the ’70s for several years. You’ll know Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes to Edward Hardwicke’s Dr. Watson in the Granada TV series. He made a fantastic Holmes and was second only to Basil Rathbone, in my humble opinion.)

Anyway, it might be some consolation to Frank Lopez to know that Tony’s relationship with Elvira becomes a toxic, poisoned thing almost immediately. Elvira is a desperately unhappy woman. She smokes, drinks and takes drugs, all to excess, she never eats and ‘her womb is so polluted from all the drugs she takes’ that she can’t give Tony a child. Oh dear. No amount of marriage counselling can save this marriage.

Tony has some kind of a sexual longing for his sister Gina (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) too, a beautiful young struggling beautician whom, when he first sees her again near the start of the film, he hasn’t seen for several years and he’s deeply struck by the vibrant and vivacious beauty she’s become.

He’s pathologically jealous of the men she associates with and he becomes murderous when he suspects there might be something between Gina and Tony’s oldest friend and right-hand man, the good-looking Manny (Steven Bauer). Manny has an easy charm that Gina obviously finds attractive. Poor Scarface. He wanted to have it all, he thought he had it all coming to him, ‘the world and everything in it,’ but he winds up with surprisingly little in the end…

The chainsaw scene is fantastically nerve-wracking. Even Scarface is getting a little hot and sweaty under the collar. I love the way also that Tony’s Momma sticks to her guns- not a bad metaphor, that!- and won’t take a penny of her son’s drugs-and-blood money.

I also love the way though, quite conversely, that the young and impressionable Gina is more than happy to live the good life courtesy of her big brother. She’s from a different generation to her mother, a generation that wants money and a good time, dancing and drinking and romance and excitement, all under the disco glitterball.

Al Pacino might be ten years older and wiser in CARLITO’S WAY, but Carlito Brigante needs his head testing. Fresh out of prison after a five year stretch (drugs, of course), he should be planning a new crime-free life. And in fact he is.

He wants to go straight, he wants to earn enough money to retire to a sunshine island in the Bahamas and live out the rest of his days in peace. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But of course there’s a fly in his ointment. It’s a film, after all. Gotta have flies, lol.

That fly takes the shape of Carlito’s coked-up lawyer, Sean Penn in brilliant form as David Kleinfeld. Carlito feels beholden to Kleinfeld because Kleinfeld gets him out of prison on a technicality after he’s done only five years out of a thirty year sentence.

Now that Carlito’s out of the nick, Kleinfeld gets him a job as the manager of his friend’s nightclub. Carlito’s all set up with a good job and plenty of money. No wonder Carlito feels like he’s under a compliment to Kleinfeld (that’s just an Irish way of saying ‘beholden’).

So, when Kleinfeld asks Carlito to do him one little teensy-weensy ‘favour’ that involves breaking a mob boss out of a prison barge stationed at Riker’s island, Carlito reluctantly agrees.

‘I’ll just do this one last job and then I’ll be outta the life for good,’ he assures his whingy dancer/stripper girlfriend Gail, played by Penelope Ann Miller. Well, we all know what happens to people who say they’re just doing this one last job and that’s it…

There’s a fantastic chase scene at the end where Carlito is being pursued through the train station by the mob, who are trying to prevent him from boarding a train with Gail and choo-choo-ing off into the horizon to realize his dreams of a happy retirement. The bit on the public escalator is the best bit, it’s just brilliant.

You might recognise one of the pursuers (Vincent Taglialucci) as Joseph Siravo who goes on to star as Tony Soprano’s alpha-male father, Johnny Boy Soprano, in HBO hit mob drama THE SOPRANOS. 

Viggo Mortensen (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) has a small part as a wheelchair-bound ex-con and John Leguizamo is ‘Benny Blanco from the Bronx.’ ‘Remember me…?’ Remember him? If Carlito didn’t before, he certainly will now…

There’s a funny bit at David Kleinfeld’s garden party when a coked-up Kleinfeld has a go at a party guest for getting a ‘hand-job’ in full view of the guests. Who would have thought that the host of a hookers-and-cocaine party should have turned out to be so all-fired moralistic and judgemental?

I love both SCARFACE and CARLITO’S WAY, each of which was directed by Brian De Palma. I’m not a big fan of Sidney Lumet’s based-on-a-true-story SERPICO, however. It’s still a good film, but I just hate the way that Al Pacino’s stunning good looks are all but obscured by the scruffy beard and awful hats and dreadful baggy clothes he wears as undercover cop Frank Serpico.

Frank Serpico was a real-life cop who all his life coveted the police officer’s gold shield and wanted nothing so much as to be a part of the thin blue line that protects the law-abiding citizen from the criminal fraternity.

As a plainclothes policeman who did undercover work, and quite successfully too, I believe, the thing he mostly seemed to uncover was a staggering amount of corruption in the police force. As an honest cop, he refused to take bribes, kick-backs, blood-money, protection-money, racket-money or any other kind of money that wasn’t his by rights.

The cops who did take unlawful monies were unbelievably pissed off by the big stink that Serpico made about it, to the point where some of his work colleagues hated his guts and his life was threatened. But he persevered with his attempts to take his story of rank corruption within the police force to the highest authorities and he didn’t stop till he got somewhere.

It’s hard to like Al Pacino’s portrayal of Serpico in the film because Serpico is a scruffy, shambling, mumbly-voiced single-minded bore who pisses off everyone he talks to with his abrasive hostility. I get it that he’s doing the right thing, but does he have to be such a total pill about it? Nobody likes a snitch, but a whingy, self-righteous snitch is even harder to stomach.

He adores animals and keeps several pets, which is good, but he treats them better than he treats his girlfriends, which is not so good. The girl from next door who moves in with him is shouted at constantly by Serpico because his mind is always on his work problems, and he only promises a commitment to her when she’s on the verge of leaving him.

Even then, as she quite rightly points out, once he gets her back he’ll never mention kids and marriage again. He’s a commitment-phobe and a big beardy loser. She can do better. And I think Al Pacino makes a nicer gangster than he does a cop…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE PATRICK STEWART ONE! (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scrooge patrick stewart scared

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE PATRICK STEWART ONE! (1999) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY CHARLES DICKENS. WRITTEN FOR TELEVISION BY PETER BARNES. DIRECTED BY DAVID JONES. STARRING PATRICK STEWART, RICHARD E. GRANT, SASKIA REEVES, DOMINIC WEST AND JOEL GREY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Patrick Stewart does a terrific job as Ebenezer Scrooge in this made-for-TV version of the timeless Christmas tale. No matter how many versions I see, and there are quite a few knocking around, I never get tired of watching this story of festive cheer and redemption unfolding on the screen before me.

Patrick Stewart makes for a very fit and trim-looking Scrooge, a Scrooge whose bearing is noble rather than stooped and bent-over and who looks as if he might just be able to run after you- and catch you!- if you endeavoured to pull an Artful Dodger on him and pinch his wallet or pocket handkerchief right out from under his very nose. This is no decrepit or dilapidated Scrooge. This is a Scrooge in top physical form, a Scrooge to be reckoned with. He’s still a miserable git, though.

Anyway, it’s Christmas-time once more, Christmas Eve in fact, and a full seven years ago tonight since the demise of one Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner and the only person he could really call his friend.

Scrooge, the renowned miser and whizz-kid down at the Stock Exchange, is in his office as usual, grumping and bitching at his humble clerk Bob Cratchit about how much coal he’s putting on the fire. Scabby or what?

Richard E. Grant plays the servile but good-natured family man Bob Cratchit. I was surprised by this bit of casting because I was fully expecting him to be playing Scrooge’s posh nephew Fred but no, he’s playing Bob and they’ve even blacked up his gnashers to make him look like a proper povvo from Dickensian times. Realistic, I have no doubt, but somewhat off-putting, if I may say so.

Bob and his equally black-toothed Missus have six hungry chilluns atween ’em. Which only goes to prove the long-held opinion that there wasn’t much to do of an evening before the invention of the telly. Scrooge only pays Bob a measly fifteen bob a week, which is nowhere near enough to keep his six scraggy urchins in Playstation games and iPhones and whatnot. Better call CHILDLINE…!

Still and all, though, the Cratchits are determined to celebrate Christmas together no matter how poor they might be. Unlike mean old Mr. Scrooge, who’s busy screaming abuse at the child carol singers and telling the gentleman charity collectors looking ‘to make some slight provision for the poor at this time of year’ to bugger off. Bah humbug indeed.

While Bob runs gleefully home to his family at close of business on Christmas Eve, Scrooge returns home to his gloomy chambers alone. Here he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Jacob, wrapped in ‘the chains he forged in life,’ the lock-boxes and money-bags that were his stock-in-trade while he lived, has a terrible message of hope and despair for his old mucker.

Change your money-grubbing, miserly ways, you greedy old bastard, is the message in a nutshell. If you don’t start loosening the purse-strings and making the welfare of mankind your business tout de suite, you’ll end up like me, Jacob Marley, doomed to walk abroad for all eternity without the power to intervene where you see misery, hunger and poverty!

It’s a pretty clear and chilling message, but Jacob can’t be sure that it’s penetrated Scrooge’s thick skull. Three ghosts will be coming, he warns Scrooge before he takes his leave of the frightened old miser, to make sure that the message to ‘change’ really gets through. Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one…

As we all know by know, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future do come to see Scrooge and, through little vignettes from his own past, present and future, show him the error of his ways.

Joel Grey, who positively sparkled as the wickedly bitchy and lecherous MC in CABARET some two-and-a-half decades earlier in CABARET, is lacklustre and as flat as a pancake here as the Ghost Of Christmas Past. I hate slagging him off when he was so mesmerisingly good in CABARET, but his heart’s clearly not in this role here.

Scrooge, of course, ends up changing his miserly ways and becomes ‘a man who knows how to keep Christmas well.’ He befriends Bob, raises his salary and vows to help Bob and his hungry family in the future. Bob thinks his master’s gone mad, of course, but he’ll go along with the madness as long as it means a few more shillings in the family coffers.

Scrooge also eats large helpings of humble pie round at his nephew Fred’s place, where Fred is entertaining his guests at Christmas dinner. Fred is the child of Scrooge’s dead sister Fanny (tee-hee, fanny is a rude word!), the one person in the world who truly loved Scrooge and thought there was some good in him.

Why Scrooge wasn’t kinder to poor good-natured, warm-hearted Fred for this reason from the start is a mystery, unless it was the case that Fanny (snigger!) died giving birth to Fred and that’s why he’s hated Fred all this time.

In some versions, we hear that this is the exact same reason for Scrooge’s father disliking his son and forcing him to live at school all year round. In other words, Scrooge’s mother died birthing him and Scrooge’s father wanted nothing to do with the boy.

Having been treated like this himself by his own father, it’s surprising that Scrooge would have behaved the same way towards his nephew. It’s a very harsh and unfair way of going on, isn’t it?

The child can’t be blamed for the demise of the mother, heart-breakingly sad and unfortunate as that is. In any case, Scrooge now determines to be the best uncle to Fred he can possibly be, so all’s well that ends well.

Except that Scrooge now owes Dominic West’s Fred about thirty years worth of back-payments in Christmas and birthday book-tokens, lol. I can’t imagine that Scrooge would have gifted any young’un with the cash to heedlessly fritter away on penny candy and saucy French postcards, can you? Not while they could have been doing something useful with the money.

You’ll see one or two recognisable faces in the cast. Ian McNeice (NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER!) plays Scrooge’s first employer, dear old Mr. Fezziwig, he of the fat wife and equally plump daughters.

It will be very hard to marry off all three of these hefty lassies unless old Fezziwig can give each of ’em an equally hefty dowry to sweeten any potential marital deal. I’m just saying. I’m genuinely concerned for the romantic futures of these three comely heifers, lol.

Liz Smith (THE ROYLE FAMILY) is perfectly, beautifully cast as the cackling old Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s ancient charwoman-housekeeper, and Celia Imrie, from every English film ever made, or so it would seem, is suitably ringleted and corseted as one of Fred’s rather frivolous Christmas dinner guests. They do love their silly games, Gawd bless ’em every one.

And Gawd bless Mr. Scrooge too who, from this day forward, will be ‘the founder of the feast’ in a properly meaningful way. This will be my last Scrooge review for Christmas 2018 (I’ve finally run out of Scrooges to review, can you believe it!), so I’m glad to be going out on a high note with this one.

Patrick Stewart makes a top-notch Scrooge. And Tiny Tim, lightly roasted, makes a more than acceptable turkey substitute in a pinch. I’m only surprised that none of his hungry relatives ever thought of it before, to be honest. Tuck in while it’s hot, folks…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

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