The Untouchables 1987 *****

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Sequel and prequels (Capone Rising) have come to nothing; Brian De Palma’s 1987 gangster opus remains one of the best examples of reworking a hit tv show on an epic scale. There’s an operatic sweep to the story of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), the FBI-enforcer who sets out to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) with the help of an old Chicago cop (Sean Connery). Also a couple of the effects now show their age, and the film’s budgetary concerns are visible, The Untouchables has one great scene after another; the store bombing, the first border raid and it’s bloody aftermath, the baseball scene, the railway-station shoot out, the show-down with Frank Nitti (the late, great Billy Drago). Costner fits his white-collar character like a glove, and Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia make ideal support. David Mamet’s script also crackles with great dialogue, and De Palma’s sweeping camera and desire to entertain made The Untouchables an instant classic.

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Murder on the Orient Express 1974 ***

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Albert Finney was an unlikely choice to play diminutive Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s famous who-dunnit, but he makes a decent fist of the role in the heavily-padded style of Brando in The Godfather. Paul Dehn’s screenplay features the murder of Richard Widmark’s Ratchett played out over and over again, allowing each of the stars to been seen holding the knife. Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Rachel Roberts and Jacqueline Bisset are amongst the suspects, and the resolution is strongly delivered through a lengthy exposition by Poirot. Lumet handles his cast well, and Richard Rodney Bennett contributes a notable score; while the mystery isn’t hard to solve, the trappings on this murder mystery make it worth returning to; even Agatha Christie was happy with the result.

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.

Outland 1981 ***

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Derided somewhat on release as a blatant reworking of classic Western High Noon, Peter Hyams’ 1981 film is set in the same kind of dirty, industrial space as Alien, and features Sean Connery as police marshal O’Niel who has to keep the peace on the remote mining colony of Io. O’Niel discovers that the company are using drugs to heighten productiveness, but also damaging the workforce; the company boss Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) arranges for O’Niel to be bumped off, and the countdown begins to a stand-off between the forces of good and corporate evil. Outland looks good, as most of Hyams’ films do, and has a happy centre in Connery; it may lack originality, but Outland is a fondly remembered excursion into the dirty deals of humankind in outer-space.

Meteor 1979 ***

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‘You can’t cover this up under a blanket of shit!’ an enraged Sean Connery tells an agog United Nations at one point in Ronald Neame’s comic masterpiece of a disaster movie from 1979.  Connery plays a scientist who discovers a meteor the size of a city is heading for earth, and manages to warm up US/USSR relations to organise a missile strike to blow the rock to smithereens. Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Henry Fonda stare at screens while variable effects depict the arrival of various fragments on earth. The main effect involves the entire cast being smothered in what appears to be liquid excrement, presumably the blanket that Connery is referring to. A relic of Cold War politics, Meteor was responsible for the ruining of AIP studios, but it’s a fun time-passer for disaster movie addicts.

A Bridge Too Far 1977 ****

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Adapted from the book by Corneilus Ryan, who also wrote The Longest Day, Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film is a true war epic, with William Goldman scripting an intricate, multiple character drama about the ill-fated Operation Market Garden as Allied troops attempted to push into Germany. A military disaster might sound like hard going for 175 minutes, but Attenborough and Goldman pull together a number of strong storylines, notably James Caan as a soldier who will not allow his friend to die, and Robert Redford as an equally determined Major.  Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman and Laurence Olivier all contribute memorable bits, and A Bridge Too Far is one of the few war epics that stands up today, mainly because Attenborough sees far more going on here than just troop movements.

The Name of the Rose 1986 ****

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Umberto Eco’s novel about a group of medieval monks who find themselves picket off my a murderer in a remote abbey was by no-means an obvious conversion job for cinema; Jean Jacques Annaud’s 1986 version has to jettison some of the religious and philosophical ruminations while keeping to the bones of the plot. Sean Connery’s William of Baskerville and Christian Slater’s novice Adso arrive at the Eberbach abbey to initial suspicion, but prove to have the chops for an investigation that leads to the discovery of a book with the power to kill. Rival monks include Ron Perlman and Michael Lonsdale, and their lively performances keep this metaphysical who-dunnit going until the fiery climax. A flop in the US, The Name of The Rose found a big audience in Europe, and the labyrinthine plotting stands up well today.