The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Where’s it on? Film4, Sunday, 18:10

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

To mark Sean Connery’s passing, Film4 is filling out its Sunday schedule with a triple bill of Connery classics – and not necessarily the most obvious ones. There’s Time Bandits, Terry Gilliam’s 1981 children’s fantasy, with Connery popping up as the Ancient Grecian king Agamemnon; Robin and Marian (1976) is Richard Lester’s elegiac revisioning of the Robin Hood legend, teaming Connery with Audrey Hepburn as the outlaw and his lover in their autumnal years; and there’s high adventure in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), John Huston’s rip-roaring adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story. This one sees Connery and Michael Caine playing roguish chancers in colonial India who set out to make mischief in the remote kingdom of Kafiristan. It’s a project Huston had been trying to make for years, with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart originally earmarked to star, and the likes of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and Paul Newman and Robert Redford all talked about in the intervening years. But Connery and Caine could hardly be improved upon. Their gruff chemistry makes for one of cinema’s most delightful buddy movies.

Lucky Grandma (2019)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Chinese actress Tsai Chin once starred alongside Connery as a Bond girl in 1967’s You Only Live Twice. She’s been a familiar face on the big and small screen for decades, but gets a juicy late starring role – aged 85 – as a misadventuring pensioner in this new crime comedy set in New York’s Chinatown. Grumpy, grieving and permanently puffing away on a cigarette, she sets off on a gambling trip to Atlantic City after a fortune teller tells her she’s about to have a very lucky day. Her time at the blackjack table doesn’t exactly go as she’d hoped, but a fortune comes her way unexpectedly nonetheless on the coach journey home. Trouble is, said fortune belongs to the Chinese mafia. Light on dialogue, this colourful caper – a debut feature from Chinese-American filmmaker Sasie Sealy – gets entertaining mileage out of Tsai Chin’s impassive weathering of the plot’s twists and turns. Widowed and world-weary, she’s human and empathetic in a way that grounds the laughs, staying just the right side of kickass-granny clichés.

The Ladykillers (1955)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Speaking of indomitable grannies, this week also sees a 4K restoration of the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers emerge on Blu-ray for its 65th anniversary. Katie Johnson plays the widowed landlady Mrs Wilberforce, whose dastardly lodger (Alec Guinness) convenes a troupe of ne’er-do-wells in his room under the pretext of rehearsing string quartets. In fact they’re plotting an armoured van robbery at nearby Kings Cross station. Coinciding with the 1950s trend for heist and caper movies, this still very tasty blend of criminal hijinks and jet-black humour is perhaps second only to Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) in the Ealing canon. Like that film, it makes mirth of murder, with the men conspiring to do away with Mrs Wilberforce after she discovers their ruse. The rogue’s gallery includes Cecil Parker as the blustering Major Courtney, a young Peter Sellers as the Cockney spiv Harry Robinson and Sellers’ future Pink Panther co-star Herbert Lom as shady continental hoodlum Louis Harvey. The plot unravels unforgettably to the genteel chamber music of Boccherini. 

Waxworks (1924)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Coming up on its 100th birthday, Waxworks is one of the earliest examples of a horror/fantasy anthology movie – a full-blown classic of German Expressionism from director Paul Leni, who would subsequently gravitate to Hollywood to make The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928). It tells the story of a young job hunter who takes work at a waxworks museum writing backstories for the exhibits – fiendish figures from history such as Harun al-Rashid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. Leni’s film brings his stories to life via colourfully staged episodes in old Baghdad, medieval Russia and then a foggy fantasy of Victorian London. It bears some resemblance to Fritz Lang’s epoch-traversing portmanteau film Destiny (1921), but outdoes even Lang in its extravagant storybook sets. Emil Jannings plays the lascivious caliph, Conrad Veidt the sadistic Russian tsar and Dr Caligari himself, Werner Krauss, is the Ripper, making Waxworks a who’s who of German acting heavyweights of the time.

Selected works by Kevin Jerome Everson

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Erie (2010)

This Blu-ray retrospective of the films of African-American artist and documentarist Kevin Jerome Everson brings together nearly 9 hours worth of material – 4 feature films and 17 shorts – made over a 15-year period. Everson’s films haven’t been easy to see on these shores, so this is a prime opportunity to get to grips with a body of work straddling the boundary between observational, regionalist documentary and slow cinema, in which the lives and labour of Black Americans take centre stage. Shot on 16mm, 2017’s Tonsler Park could scarcely be more timely, foregrounding the work of public officials manning a polling station in Charlottesville during the 2016 presidential election. Nothing happens except the business of democracy at work, and the physical effort to facilitate it; it’s like one of Fred Wiseman’s organisational studies merging with a Warholian emphasis on faces and duration. 2013’s watery The Island of Saint Matthews films people, floodgates and baptism in a Mississippi town with a past history of deluge, while 2010’s Erie comprises a succession of extended takes around the Great Lakes city, at least 3 of which stop your breath short.