This Sporting Life 1963 ****

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Love him or hate him, and the excesses of his later work didn’t appeal to many, Lindsay Anderson was a true auteur long before the French made the term fashionable; his 1963 drama This Sporting Life is a brilliant sports picture, featuring a massive performance by Richard Harris. As rugby league footballer Frank Machin, Harris kicks and punches his way to a living, but his aggression comes at a personal cost via his relationship with Margaret (Rachel Roberts). Anderson has made his name with ‘free cinema’, a well-observed documentary form, and his stack black and white photography adds verisimilitude to Machin’s fall from grace. Arthur Lowe and Leonard Rossiter went on to feature in Anderson’s later films, and This Sporting Life is a milestone in British cinema; terse, downbeat but with a vibrant beating heart in Harris’s towering performance.

 

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The Cassandra Crossing 1976 ***

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George P Costmatos’s 1976 film marked the start of the slow decline of the disaster movie; it’s the kind of all star extravaganza that defies logic and credulity, but the packaging is consistently entertaining. Richard Harris play a divorced couple who end up by chance on the same trail; they’ve picked the worst possible transportation, since there’s a plague carrier on board, not to mention a seriously weakened bridge to negotiate. There’s also a motely collection of actors doing their thing, including OJ Simpson, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner and John Phillip Law. McKenzie (Burt Lancaster) is trying to cover up the outbreak, with disastrous results; Cosmatos is intent on using the tropes of a conspiracy thriller to knit the disparate elements together, and the result is chaotic but enjoyable; continually on rotation on British and American television throughout the eighties, The Cassandra Crossing is one of these daft films indelibly branded into the consciousness of several generations.

 

The Wild Geese 1978 ****

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Producer Euan Lloyd pursued his dream of making great British action movies through the 70’s and 80’s with some success, notably this boisterous romp about a group of mercenaries in Africa. Hired on dubious grounds by Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger), The Geese parachute into Rhodesia to rescue president Julius Limbani. Doublecrossed and left for dead, it’s up to the mercenaries to fight their way out. Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris are amongst the soldiers of fortune, and after a patient build-up, The Wild Geese delivers plenty of explosions, one-liners and some interesting political discussions. Well filmed by Andrew McLaglan from Reginald Rose’s script, based on Daniel Carney’s book, The Wild Geese features big names and big action, old school style.