The Charge of the Light Brigade 1968 ****

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Having won an Oscar for his previous period piece Tom Jones, expectations were high for Tony Richardson’s take on the famous British military catastrophe; so much so that it was the most expensive British film ever made when released in 1968. It’s clear where the cheques were cashed; there’s an all-star cast including David Hemmings, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard and Vanessa Redgrave, plus notable cameo roles for Peter Bowles and even Donald Wolfit in a walk-on as Macbeth. The battle-scenes are also striking in that the use of special effects to create large armies had yet to be invented back in 1968; the action involves large groups of extras, and somehow their plainness is more suggestive of the drabness of failure than the more vivid pictures which might created today. The script, written by John Osborne and Charles Wood, plays fast and loose with history, but it does relate to real incidents, like the infamous black bottle affair. The mood changes once the action moves oversees, although it was apparently the result of budget restrictions that Richard Williams was pressed into service to create animated bridges to inform the action; using political cartoons of the time, Williams creates wonderfully vivid tableaux that say just as much about the vain-glorious mind-set of those involved that rest of the the film itself. Made at a time when the Vietnam war was raging, this version of The Charge of the Light Brigade is a politically astute look at failure and blame, and deserves better than a rather musty reputation suggests.

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Deep Red 1975 ****

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Dario Argento’s Deep Red is a clever riff on Blow Up, featuring the same star David Hemmings, and working a fresh variation of the idea of a man who witnesses a murder and has to put together the fragments of memory to unmask the killer. Marcus Daly (Hemmings) is a jazz pianist in Rome who sees a famous psychic struck down; he embarks on a search for the killer with the help of a reporter (Daria Nicoldi), and gets more than he bargained for. With an aggressive score by Goblin, Argento demonstrates why he’s the giallo master; clockwork toys, tinkling children’s songs, and brutal, bloody murders make Deep Red a genre classic.

Unman, Wittering and Zigo 1971 ***

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The unusual title comes from the last three names on a register called by idealistic teacher John Ebony (David Hemmings) in John Mackenzie’s adaptation of a play by Giles Cooper. Ebony takes up his post only to find the mood of the class is ugly; they hint at their collective responsibility for the death of Ebony’s predecessor, and it’s clear that Lower 5B have ominous plans for Ebony and his wife (Carolyn Seymour). Mackenzie’s film has a subversive feel for the mind-games of the pupils, and builds to some impressively tense scenes as Ebony’s dream job becomes a nightmare. There’s also a roll-call of British TV stars in support, from Barbara Lott (Ronnie Corbett’s mother in sitcom Sorry) to Tony Haygarth and Douglas Wilmer.