Sahara [1943] wallpaper

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1920 x 1080 wallpaper for Sahara [1943] starring Humphrey Bogart .

Considering this film was made while WWII was still underway, you would be forgiven for approaching Sahara as nothing more than a patriotic propaganda film, and for the most part you would be right. But while there is plenty of allied camaraderie, back-slapping and pulling together to beat the Hun, its message never really gets in the way of what is essentially a solid military movie. Anyway, watching Bogie is always worth your time, and he is his usual charismatic, dependable self here.

In summary, there is nothing mind-blowing here, but the film doesn’t really put a foot wrong either. An easy to watch film and a typically strong performance from Bogart.

Bogart gets ready for a take in Sahara

Oh, and the score is great.

Review : The Manchurian Candidate [1962]

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After Raymond Shaw and his fellow soldiers return from service in the Korean War, Raymond is awarded the congressional Medal of Honor, but everyone concerned is a bit fuzzy on the details. It transpires that the men were captured and brainwashed, and Raymond is now a weapon whose mind is in the hands of the enemy, just waiting for the appropriate trigger to carry out his instructions…. Frank Sinatra stars alongside Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh in this enjoyable political satire and espionage thriller.

This film came personally recommended to me by none other than Paul McCartney. Not the real McCartney, but the Paul McCartney from local tribute band “Like the Beatles“. Needless to say I respect his film tastes over the real McCartney, who would probably tell me to watch the “Rupert the Bear” movie or something. I digress. I went on to read other fan reviews only to be overcome with a veritable tsunami of praise and wonderment. Even though I don’t hold the IMDb rating system in much regard, TMC’s score of 8.3 pumped up my internal hype-meter all the way to the giddy heights of “insta-purchase” and within a few minutes I had frittered away a few interwebpounds at Amazon. I begun the interminable wait for my hairy, spaced-out hippy postman to push the DVD through the letterbox of a house which was hopefully somewhere in the region of my own.

When a man from a neighbouring county knocked on my door and uttered the familiar phrase “I think this was meant for you” I hastily ripped open the cellophane (if angrily clicking my nails over a glued corner of plastic for half an hour can be considered hasty) and frisbeed the disc into the DVD player. Frank Sinatra’s rather curmudgeonly face lit up the DVD menu and I pressed play. Had I hyped myself up too much ?

For once – no. 20 minutes later I was witnessing a flawless piece of editing and directorial work. As the camera pans round a room we see our good ol’ Yankee soldiers sitting in a hotel, patiently listening to a rather dull lady lecture about growing hydrangeas. The camera keeps turning on a pivot. As the camera turns to 180 degrees we see an audience of  old biddies taking notes and listening fervently, hanging on the every word of Mrs Hydrangea. The camera keeps turning. As the camera comes round to a full 360 in a single shot, we see the soldiers again, only this time they are not surrounded by the trappings of a flowery hotel, but are instead on a stage of sorts with pictures of Communist leaders behind them. The camera keeps turning and we now see that the floral Mrs Hydrangea is actually Dr Yen Lo, an evil mastermind demonstrating to a crowd of nameless military suits the power he has over the minds of these soldiers. The logistics of the scenery changes in a single shot are impressive enough, but it is how clearly the Director shows us in-camera the difference between the soldiers perception and the truth that is handled so deftly. From this point the scene continues to develop the idea, interchanging the backdrop, the characters and script between both viewpoints. One minute Dr Yen Lo is in the hotel, and in another Mrs Hydrangea is talking military tactics in the demonstration room. It’s an impeccable triumph of editing and direction.

Unfortunately this is where – for me – the film took a very slight wrong turn. McCarthy-era political satire aside, the film is presented and paced as mystery, and I couldn’t help but feel that this (awesome) reveal was shown to the audience too early. From that point, you know exactly how the crew were brainwashed, what the triggers are, and the only mystery is exactly how the Communists are going to use their new subserviant weapon. When you do find out late in the film, it does lead to a very satisfying and exciting climax, but aside from a few moments mid-plot the wait does feel like… well.. a wait. It’s kind of like an episode of “Columbo” – you see how the crime happens in the first few minutes, and then you just watch as Columbo tries to figure it out for himself. In itself this isn’t a bad thing but the setup in this film  just screams for a traditional mystery angle – where the audience find out the clues with the main protagonist. This doesn’t hamper the film at all, but just suggests to me that retaining some mystery could have made this great film even better.

There are still a few surprises along the way though along with a few red-herrings and audience misdirection which leaves you thinking perhaps you have been fooled all along. Unfortunately there are also a couple of unintentional laughs. Frank Sinatra’s big martial arts scene is more Ralph Macchio than Bruce Lee and hindered further by some stilted and over-rehearsed fight choreography (although Sinatra did break his finger for real – he waxed on when he should’ve waxed off). This can be forgiven though – I assume this is one of the earliest representations of martial arts in American cinema. Then there is a scene where Raymond is accidently exposed to the brainwash trigger, and jumps in a lake after hearing a barman suggest the idea to someone else. I actually laughed out loud but the tone suggested drama. Laurence Harvey is also one of the most laughably bad screen drunks I have ever seen.

On a techical and production level the film is exemplary- with unique camerawork highlightnig the action onscreen. The reveal scene described above sets a near-unattainable bar but the film maintains energy and momentum with expressionistic flair. The camera movements match the tone and emotion of the characters with tilted off-kilter angles, free movement and focal changes. The style changes to a frenetic, rapid, shaky feel for the exciting climax, heightening the sense of tension and fear.

The cast are excellent aside from a few moments of histrionics from Laurence Harvey. Sinatra carries out his duties with a sincere conviction and I was impressed with him throughout. This was my first Sinatra movie but judging by this performance I don’t think it will be my last. Angela Lansbury plays the sinister, plotting mother of Raymond to perfection, despite only being around 3 years his senior in real-life.

Overall this was an excellent, well-paced thriller, which in my mind could have benefited from leaving a few stones unturned earlier in the film. Great performances, biting satire, impressive direction and a fantastic concept all contribute to what is a high quality, hugely enjoyable film.

4 / 5

Classic Review : The Dam Busters (1955)

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The Dam Busters Title Card

There are a few tunes in English culture that make every old soul stir, every cataract-ridden eye flood with saltwater, and every mind over a certain age ache for an England long-since headbutted to death by hoodie wearing benefit frauds. Right at the top of the pile, (only narrowly beating raps about cups of tea) is the Dam Busters march. It’s not just the OAPs either. Unleash Eric Coates’ devastating tune amongst a group of 30-something Brits, and the room will be filled with cries of “Tally Ho!” and “Chocs away old boy!”. It is a tune so inseperable from British culture that it may as well be our National Anthem, and to be honest, if the film didn’t have a dog called “N*gger” in it, it probably would be.

Yes, N*gger. RAF Wing Cmdr. Guy Gibson’s dog is called N*gger. Before I offend anyone who may be reading this, bear in mind this film was made in 1955, and I am told by many people over 60 that this was quite an acceptable name for a dog back then. English people were weird in the 40s and 50s, my Gran used to have a cat called “Bastard”.

So, now the elephant in the room has been soundly addressed, onto the film.


The film is a near historically accurate portrayal of the RAF’s dam buster campaign in WWII, a plot to slow the German war machine by destroying 3 dams supplying the millions of tons of water required to build their weapons. Presumably it would also have a devastating effect on the amount of ice they could put in their Martinis. The dams could not be destroyed by conventional weapons and explosives, so it is up to the will and self-belief of Dr Barnes Wallis to create the famous  “bouncing bomb”; a bomb dropped by Lancasters at low altitude, which skims and skips across the vast German reservoirs to hit the dam at the perfect spot.

Michael Redgrave convincingly plays Dr Wallis, a man whose intellect is thankfully light years ahead of his taste in knitted cardigans. Wallis, who is really the film’s main protagonist and the only fleshed out character, admirably carries the weight of the entire first half of the film on his knit-clad shoulders. This first section of the film is devoted to the trials and tribulations of the scientist, as he struggles to get the military to take his outlandish idea seriously. Interest is maintained thanks to Redgrave’s performance, as he plays the socially awkward but brilliant man with veracious determinism, yet bumbling charm and humility.

The film steps up a gear as we meet the RAF flyboys destined to drop Wallis’ invention. Although we are introduced to too many one-dimensional characters at this point (N*gger the dog has more screentime than most), the real focus shifts onto Wing Cmdr. Guy Gibson, played by Richard Todd. Todd is solid, and fits the stereotypical English flyboy nicely. Surprisingly, despite Guy Gibson being the real life wing commander, and author of the book the film is based on, the film does a great job of showing that the real heroics come from cumulative accomplishments of everyone involved, rather than anyone individually.

As the film leads to its inevitable conclusion, we are treated to some fantastic shots of Lancaster bomber wings flying to stunning sunsets, along with slightly ropey miniature work, and poorly animated tracer fire as the boys fly to their mission’s objective. The actual mission itself is action packed, paced well, and there is a very real sense of satisfaction when it is all over, elevated further by the iconic score.

Aside from the good Doctor Wallis and Wing Cmdr. Guy Gibson, the rest of the cast exist purely to move the plot along, and are all fairly flat and under-developed, but this does not seem to harm the film, which is at its essence, a patriotic recounting of true events. A little reading will show you that the film uses a moderate dose of creative license with certain situations, but nothing which really changes the outcome or the main historical facts, and only in the interest of building suspense and entertaniment value. The film is shot beautifully in black and white to match the stock footage of the actual bouncing bomb tests, and is full of enough well shot fly-bys to fulfill most aviation buffs needs. Dialogue is handled with all the patriotic camaraderie and back-slapping you would expect from this era and genre, and while slightly stilted at times it thankfully avoids becoming too cliché.

Overall, The Dam Busters manages to be greater than the sum of its parts, helped in no small part by Michael Redgrave’s performance, an uplifting theme, some beautiful photography and the drama of the real-life story. Buy it, watch it, enjoy it, and if you aren’t that keen you can always give it to your Gran on her birthday. Just be prepared for her to start belting out the old war songs.

4 out of 5

Related Links:
The Dam Busters DVD on amazon.co.uk