The Jigsaw Man 1983 ***

jisawAre YOU looking for daily updates on Arthur Negus? Almost certainly, the answer is no. And yet, I have news of the ancient, long-passed BBC antiques expert, because he drifted across the stream of my Amazon Prime account like the answer to a madman’s prayer during last night’s perusal of Terence Young’s forgotten 1983 thriller The Jigsaw Man.

As a teenager, The Jigsaw Man seemed exactly like the kind of drab espionage fare best avoided, but either the film or my tastes have changed because this critic found himself drawn to such musty charms. But how to persuade others to join me? After an exchange with no less august a figure than Derrick from excellent review site The Ferguson Theater ( http://derricklferguson.wordpress.com/) about films that have merits outside of their conventional values, I came up with this shortlist of ten further reasons to watch The Jigsaw Man, an all-star spy caper very loosely based on the Cambridge Five. Michael Caine plays a Soviet defector who returns to the UK to play a cat and mouse game with British authorities, but no simple summary can capture the many facets of such an enterprise….

  • Would you like to see Donald Pleasence’s house? For indeed, it is the Chiswick maison of the British character actor that forms the backdrop to key scenes here.
  • There are no cameos from Captain America or the Hulk here, but how about a brief nod and a wink from British household entertainer Max Bygraves to add value?
  • While we’re talking cameos, would a brief hello from composer and national treasure Sir William Walton help seal the deal?
  • Would you like to see screen titan Sir Laurence Olivier face to face with David Kelly, best remembered as Basil Fawlty’s Irish builder in Fawlty Towers?
  • Have you ever hoped to see a car chase through Royal Windsor safari park, with monkey and giraffe action included in the fruit-stand-toppling action?
  • What kind of cultural value would you put on seeing James Bond and Rocky Horror star Charles Gray without his wig?
  • Talking of Bond, how about reuniting classic Bond director Young with regular stars in his films like Gray, Sabine Sun and Vladek Sheybal, instantly recognisable via From Russia With Love, and his impeccable musical performance in The Apple?
  • Speaking about reunions, how about bringing Olivier back in tandem with Michael Caine, years after their brilliant combination in Sleuth?
  • Why not have Michael Caine speak, not only in a comedy Russian accent, but a third comedy voice which is supposedly an Oklahoma oilman? Or dress up as a priest?
  • And why not throw in any other available British character actors, lets say, Robert Powell, Susan George and Michael Medwin to fill out the cast?

The takeaway is; there are other reasons to watch a film other than because it’s good by some definition. The Jigsaw Man had various, well-documented production problems, and key scenes are rushed and garbled; the flashback seems to have been lifted from another film. If you’re seeking thrills, don’t bother. But is you’re interested in Britain, film-stars, nostalgia or any number of cinematic ephemera, The Jigsaw Man is well worth exhuming from whatever dusty crypt it has lain in since 1983. The link is below…

Without A Clue 1988 ****

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‘How are things on the sub-continent?’ is a phrase that looms large in my notes for Without A Clue, a Sherlock Holmes spoof from 1988. It’s uttered by Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine), an actor hired by Dr Watson (Ben Kingsley) to play the role of the Baker Street detective, a fictional character of his own invention. It’s a line that evokes the casual, avuncular racism of a bygone era, and one of a number of neat touches that make Without A Clue something of a secret delight.

Without A Clue was poorly reviewed and found few takers, and yet it’s a very clever take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. Caine and Kingsley relish the challenge of flipping their characters; Holmes is dominant in public, but is cowed and bullied in private. Watson, by contrast, has to maintain a meek façade when solving crimes, but is quick to asset his intellect when the two are left alone together. And there’s a crime to be solved; stolen, or rather switched bank-plates means that the Bank of England have been accidentally issuing forgeries, while the criminals concerned have the ability to make real banknotes. Moriarty (Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Paul Freeman) is, of course, at the heart of the scandal, with Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) less than hot on his trail.

A short but delightful scene with Norman Greenhough (Peter Cook), the real-life publisher of The Strand Magazine, establishes that Without A Clue knows it’s stuff, and it’s also nice to see such Conan Doyle ephemera like the Baker Street Irregulars make an appearance. Without a Clue didn’t offer the sex or anti-authority comedy that was fashionable in the 1980’s, but it’s a minor delight, well performed and with a fresh, charming take on beloved characters.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/without-a-clue/id872645010

Dressed to Kill 1980 ***

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Brian De Palma hasn’t been troubling the box-office much with ventures like Tomboy or Domino, but back in 1980, he on fire, and was hailed as the new Hitchcock. He won this accolade as much by imitation as anything else; Dressed to Kill feels like a fusion of the cod-psychology of Psycho plus some of the innocent abroad adventure of North by Northwest. The portrayal of a transvestite killer and gender reassignment treatment feels exploitative and is rather regrettable by today’s standards, and De Palma’s enthusiasm for naked female victims, hardly a unique fetish, inevitably limits the audience. But the technicalities of Dressed to Kill are still impressive; the early sequences involving Kate (Angie Dickinson) being stalked in a museum have steely control, and after she’s unexpectedly side-lined, the plot diverts to Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) and Nancy Allen’s call girl Liz, leading to a spectacular elevator murder. The level of violence and the stereotyping are regrettable, but De Palma’s gift for tension and dramatic images doesn’t fade, and there’s nice turns from Dennis Franz and Michael Caine as the cop and the psychologist who prove useful Peter on his quest to find out who murdered his mother. they don’t make them like this any more, and that’s probably for the best, but as a snapshot of what was acceptable in 1980, this is a jaw-droppingly slick thriller.

The Last Witch Hunter 2014 ***

the-last-witch-hunter-di-1Vin Diesel is never afraid over over-sell his material, and his prophesy of a franchise for The Last Witch Hunter seems somewhat redundant when Breck Eisner’s fantasy thriller his screens like a rotten tomato in 2015. Then again, Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick seemed to have flatlined another franchise until Diesel brought it back from the dead, so who knows? The Last Witch Hunter certainly has something to commend it, not least some tongue-in-cheek support from Michael Caine and some nicely rendered CGI-backdrops as Kaulder (Diesel) cannons through the centuries into a big boss battle with a Queen Witch. With reams of laughable expository dialogue about Witch Prisons to stumble through, The Last Witch Hunter is a nice example of the good-bad movie; it’s gibberish, but at least it’s fluent gibberish.

Children of Men 2006 ****

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Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film adapts PD James’s novel for a bleak and grimly imagined future of 2027, with Britain crippled by martial law, terrorist strikes and general chaos. The reason is connected to the plague of infertility which has swept the planet; Theo (Clive Owen) finds himself on a mission of biblical proportions when he attempts to help a miraculously pregnant woman to reach some kind of safety. Children of Men is awash with political allusions to turn-of-century events; it’s a decidedly post September 11th film, brimming with paranoia and despair, and spiked with moment of visceral violence. Support from Michael Caine and Julianne Moore, plus Peter Mullan as a refugee-camp supervisor, makes Cuaron’s film a memorable snapshot of modern concerns.

The Man Who Would Be King 1975 ****

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John Huston belied his early promise to make some right rubbish before his 1970’s career rebirth; The Man Who Would Be King is one of his best, a rollicking adventure yard from the pen of Rudyard Kipling, a passion project for Huston who had tried to get it on screen for several decades. In 1975, he got a dream cast, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine as Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, plus Christopher Plummer as Kipling himself. The tall tale pitches the two soldiers who become gods amongst the natives during British rule in India. The Man Who Would be King questions notions of white superiority, but also finds time for plenty of star-powered entertainment; in a pre-Indiana Jones world Huston’s film is about as big and brassy as period adventure gets.

Is Anybody There ? 2008 ***

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A welcome starring role for Michael Caine, Is Anybody There? sounds a bit gloomy on paper; young boy Edward (Bill Milner) lives in the retirement home his parents run, and his life takes an abrupt turn when he falls under the spell of Clarence (Caine), a retired magician. Anne Marie Duff and David Morrisey are his parents, and there’s a full complement of British talent as the inhabitants of the home, including Rosemary Harris, Sylvia Syms and Leslie Phillips, with Peter Vaughan contributing a notable scene as the victim of a guillotine trick which goes horribly wrong. Caine gives a prickly performance as Clarence, and John Crowley’s film never overdoes the sentiment; Is Anybody There? is a rather quaintly old-fashioned coming-of-age story handled in a very British way.