The Osterman Weekend 1989 ****


It must be something of a surprise to those who knew the late actor Rutger Hauer to read obituaries like this ( which show almost no knowledge of the man or his films. Hauer came to prominence as a cinema actor of phenomenal power, working on a series of collaborations with Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven such as Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, both of which are covered elsewhere in this blog. His celebrated turn in The Legend of the Holy Drinker is probably his most mature work, but the stardom that he gained from villianous turns opposite Sylvester Stallone in Nighthawks or in The Hitcher made him a bankable enough name to get him a role in Sam Peckinpah’s final film The Osterman Weekend. Adapted from Robert  “Bourne Identity” Ludlum’s book, it’s a Big Brother-type story of various espionage agents holed up in a remote house where micro-surveillance systems have been employed. Hauer plays tv journalist John Tanner, who is being manipulated at arms length by CIA chief Maxwell Danforth. It’s one of Hauer’s most substantial roles, with an ahead-of-its-time conceit and great support from John Hurt, Dennis Hopper and Craig T Nelson. The script is a little muddled, with writer Alan Sharp amongst those fighting Peckinpah’s famed desire for self-sabotage. That none of the above films get even a single mention in the above obituary suggests that Peckinpah’s pessimism was justified ; The Osterman Weekend nails the idea of media manipulation, and its concerns are still relevant today.


Partners 1982 ***

partnersThe buddy-cop movie is something that always seems to have been a cliché; what happens when you pair a policeman with a child, a woman or even a dinosaur? In James Burrow’s 1982 comedy, Ryan O’Neal is the LA tough-guy who has to deal with a seismic change in his life when he’s forced to work alongside a gay man. Not just any gay man, but a 1982 comedy gay man in the form of the late John Hurt, who wears a pink furry track suit that makes him look like the Easter Bunny. Hurt’s career as a terrific character actor had been established long before Alien made him an unexpected household name, but his performance is uncertain here; at times, being homosexual seems to require behaving as if recently lobotomised, at other times, like an alien. O’Neal, as in the similarly neglected star vehicle So Fine, seems to enjoy being thrust into unusual outfits, notably bondage gear, but the story about going undercover is strictly rote. The screenplay is by Francois Veber, who was responsible for many French films made into US remakes (The Birdcage, Dinner for Schmucks), and it feels like his ability to lean into stereotypes for comic effect has been misunderstood here. Partners isn’t a good film, but as a time-capsule of how negative Hollywood has been about homosexuality, it’s one of a kind. There’s more than a few reasons this film has been buried, but it can be exhumed, freshly or not, via streaming services or even You Tube.

The Ghoul 1975 ***

the-ghoul-1975-largeBack in the 1980’s, the BBC’s late night horror double bills on Saturdays used to pull in substantial ratings; a black and white primer followed by a full-on colour horror film from the 70’s. The Ghoul was one of the featured films, and pops up now on Amazon Prime like a wine that’s been wasting in the cellar for forty years. The second film of Tyburn Film productions, it reteams Hammer veteran director Freddie Francis and star Peter Cushing, but the attitude and method is quite different from the Kensington Gore methods of the British studio. Instead, The Ghoul mines a strangely esoteric brand of horror fiction, with allusions to India via Gwen Watford as Ayah, the housekeeper to Cushing’s retired minister Dr Lawrence. It’s implied that Lawrence’s son was converted to cannibalism during a trip to Asia, and when a foursome of 1920’s flappers break down during a London to Brighton road race, the son (Don Henderson) is out for blood and more. The Ghoul is a glacially slow horror film, and the pay-off (Henderson in a tunic) must be one of the least exciting ever. But Cushing and John Hurt as his servant Bill both strike sparks, and The Ghoul is a more literate film than it’s benighted reputation suggests.


10 Rillington Place 1971 ***


Serial killer films are not a new invention; the story of John Christie is one of Britain’s most notorious examples. Adapting Ludovic Kennedy’s book on the subject, Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer adapts a deliberately drab, procedural style that finds an ideal centre in Richard Attenborough’s performance as Christie. Killing again and again for sexual kicks, it’s a turn highly untypical of Attenborough’s usual work, but he rises to the challenge, making Christie a fascinating but repellent character. John Hurt and Judy Geeson do good work as the husband and wife who unwittingly stay at Christie’s property, and a hanging scene, supervised by real-life executioner Albert Pierrepoint, adds to the gloomy sense of authenticity.

A Man For All Seasons 1966 ****


About as classy as a film can get, Fred Zinnermann’s 1966 film of Robert Bolt’s play exudes intelligence, telling in broad strokes the story of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) and his battle to reconcile his religious beliefs with his position of Lord Chancellor. When Henry VIIII (Robert Shaw) plans to marry again, More is not prepared to bow to his will and annul his previous marriage. More refuses to crumble in the face of the king’s persuasion and pressure, and his spirited legal defence of his position is a key text in understanding the nature of personal faith. Scofield and Shaw give magnetic performances, and support from Orson Welles and a very young John Hurt make this a historical epic that’s firmly grounded in the personal, and has a sensitivity for language that makes More’s arguments endlessly quotable.

Snowpiercer 2013 ***


Writer and director Bong Joon-ho follows up his splendid free-spirited monster movie The Host with a big budget action film set in a frozen future and with the action confined to a nuclear-powered train that smashes dramatically through snowdrifts. On board, there’s a revolution going on, with downtrodden back-of-the-coach inhabitants led by Curtis and Edgar (Chris Evans and Jamie Bell) against Mason (Tilda Swinton). Swinton’s performance is the first sign that Snowpiercer is heading off the rails; somewhat between Dame Thora Hird and Sue Pollard from British sit-com Hi-di-Hi, her weirdly comic, distracting turn indicates a fatal lack of cohesiveness about the film. Curtis battles his way up to the front of the train to confront Ed Harris as the big boss, with a few well-staged action sequences along the way. But despite an original idea and strong mounting, Snowpiercer is a mess, with a cumbersome length, uninvolving storylines and illogical incidents that provoke derisory laughs rather than thrills.

The Elephant Man 1980 ***


On the back of the incredible weirdness that was Eraserhead, David Lynch was a surprising choice to helm this drama set in Victorian England; executive producer Mel Brooks took quite a gamble, and it paid off; working with a distinguished cast and beautiful black and white photography by Freddie Francis, The Elephant Man is the true story of John Merrick (john Hurt), whose physical malformation made him the subject of a freak show, but who is shown a rare kindness by a sensitive doctor Treves (Anthony Hopkins). Dealing with subject matter which could easily veers towards sentiment or exploitative horror, Lynch does neither, taking a matter-of-fact attitude to Merrick’s life bookended with surrealist sequences. Sir John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller and a memorably bad-ass Michael Elphick add to the dignified credentials, but it’s a personal triumph for Lynch and Hurt, who performs superbly under mountains of make-up.