Sweet Charity (1969)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Starring Shirley Maclaine as the hopeful romantic looking to escape her sleazy life as a ‘taxi dancer’, this big-screen version of the 1966 stage musical (itself based on Fellini’s 1957 classic Nights of Cabiria) was a notorious flop in its day. It was among a number of elephantine late-60s musicals that risked looking lumbering and square next to the hipper films emerging from the young directors of New Hollywood. But in fact Sweet Charity intriguingly straddles Hollywoods old and new: it has the outsized production values of musicals past, yet looks electrifyingly forward-facing in its formal invention, including crash zooms, jump cuts, montages of still photography, and an eye for colourful expressionism worthy of Jacques Demy. Despite big numbers like ‘Big Spender’, it nearly sank Universal Pictures, but its debut director – choreographer Bob Fosse – survived the farrago to become a major moderniser in the 1970s, with the permissive pleasures Cabaret (1972), Lenny (1974) and All That Jazz (1979).
On the Town (1949)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 14:40
Twenty years before Sweet Charity, it was Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen who were bringing a thrillingly modern face to the movie musical with On the Town. Part of an international post-WW2 trend towards shooting on location, this epochal release from MGM follows 3 sailors on furlough in Manhattan. Kelly himself, a young Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin have 24 hours of shore leave to make the most of the city’s sights, which involved the production shooting in real locations such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Rockefeller Center and the American Museum of Natural History. It was Kelly who insisted on taking the film out into the streets, breaking with the genre’s tradition of building glamorous sets in the studio. BBC2 is airing it on Saturday afternoon, and from the opening harbour scene as the sailors disembark (“New York, New York, a wonderful town…”) it remains totally irresistible.
Where’s it on? BFI Player
A life at sea also looms over this debut feature from Dutch filmmaker Rene van Pannevis. Set in a northern English port town – it’s Hartlepool, but never named as such – it’s a realist drama about a gang of friends who steal cars for joyriding and selling on. One of these, Leo, is pugnaciously played by Thomas Turgoose, the now 20-something actor who made his name as the child star in Shane Meadows projects like This Is England (2006) and Somers Town (2008). Another is Rob (Charley Palmer Rothwell), the central character who balances his moonlighting life of crime with caring for his sick father, a former merchant seaman now severely ill from asbestos exposure. Also in the mix is Kasia, Leo’s Polish girlfriend, who slowly gravitates towards Rob and his ailing dad. She’s played by Morgane Polanski, daughter of Roman. Thoughtful and lyrically shot, this is an exciting calling card from Pannevis, and surely the most significant debut to come out of Hartlepool since Ridley Scott made Boy and Bicycle there in 1965.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 22:00
Aldershot-born Peter Yates had a superb run in Hollywood in the late 1960s and 70s, beginning with petrolhead classic Bullitt (1968) and including heist movie The Hot Rock (1972) and coming-of-ager Breaking Away (1979). Then there’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, from 1973, which is one of the great world-weary crime movies of the New Hollywood era, an autumnal neo-noir that gave Robert Mitchum one of his finest late roles. Mitchum plays the ageing Massachusetts gunrunner facing time in prison who attempts to save his own skin by secretly supplying information to the feds on his mob associates. Yates gives us a couple of thrilling robbery sequences, but the lasting appeal of this film is its grainy atmospherics, the blue-collar settings around the Boston area, and its tough portrayal of middle-aged masculinity, betrayal and compromise.
The Sheltering Sky (1990)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Thirty years on from its release, Bernardo Bertolucci’s handsome attempt to bring Paul Bowles’ classic 1949 novel to the screen makes its way to Blu-ray this week via Arrow. The Italian director was fresh from the major Oscar glory of The Last Emperor (1987) and continued his phase of exotic internationalism with this tale of a married American couple drifting into an existential tailspin during a trip through North Africa. John Malkovich and Debra Winger are the couple, while Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) did the stunning desert photography, Ryuichi Sakamoto provided a haunting score, and Mark Peploe, who had also scripted Michelangelo Antonioni’s Saharan sojourn The Passenger (1975), wrote the screenplay. All of that is another way of saying that the craft behind The Sheltering Sky is unimpeachable, even if the potency of Bowles’ original hovers out of reach.
Originally published: 6 November 2020