Friday, January 26, 2007

The sheds of war

A film critic whose name escapes me once observed that one's memory of a movie is often curiously reshot by some auteur of the cerebellum, and when viewing it a second time, a scene or scenes you thought you saw are missing, or the images in them are in different parts of the film.

This may be some kind of faulty compression device, or perhaps the brain needs defragging, but at at any rate, the observation was resoundingly validated when I saw Where Eagles Dare on DVD this week, more than 30 years after the first viewing in a cinema. I remembered it as a cracking good action-adventure with a couple of great sequences vivid in memory after all this time.

This time around, although the film is visually pristine and the sound remastered in DD5.1, I became irritatedly aware of Alistair McLean's wordy script, with leaden dialogue and ridiculously improbable plot twists. However, McLean was tops at action writing and my memory of those scenes turned out to be pretty accurate.

The plot basically revolves around a mission to rescue a captured American general who knows the plans for the D-Day landings, before he can be forced to spill the beans. He is being held in an awesome Alpine schloss that seems to grow from the unassailable peak of a mountain. (This place actually exists, I discovered.) The only access is via helicopter (apparently fairly novel then) or cable-car.

The film revolves around the daring rescue bid, involving spies posing as pretty frauleins, a German admiral (Michael Hordern) complete with monocle, SS brutes, mission infiltrators, a plot within the plot, double and triple crosses (almost Goon Show-like in their improbability). And sheds. Lots of very handy sheds in the Bavarian Alps. Need to change into German uniform? Shed just round the corner guv. Shed for a secret romantic rendezvous, for hiding from the Nazis, assembling bombs ...

However, the action sequences are superb for their time. The best is probably the fight on top of a cable car traversing a dizzy drop. I won't spoil it for those unfamiliar with the film.

The performances are uneven, although Richard Burton is steely as the mission leader, and a youthful looking Clint Eastwood, fresh from the saddle, stamps his trademark laconic menace on the US Army Ranger on a mission of his own (little do they know the little that he knows). Anton Diffring, who looks like a poster boy for the Hitler Youth, plays the brutal SS officer -- a role he was condemned to repeat in many other films.

It's a shame the director and producers didn't have a go at trimming the fat of McLean's script (apparently they were extremely respectful). Great wodges of exposition may work in a novel, but they kill the suspense here.

What did occur to me was that this is one of those rare films crying out for a remake. It could be spectacular.

Where Eagles Dare is one of a trio of war movies in this box set: the others are The Dirty Dozen and Kelly's Heroes. That is excellent value; all are remastered in DD5.1 and look great.

Update: I forgot to mention that one of the gnadige frauleinen is played by Hammer House of Horror favourite Ingrid Pitt. I almost didn't recognise her with her clothes on. She was great in Countess Dracula, roughly (very) based on Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who, legend has it, bathed in the blood of virgins. And got her kit off at a moment's notice, apparently.

I think I am going to look for Von Ryan's Express next.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Turn up the volume

Bit of a swagger really, this post. The new year begins with news that my new collection of poems, A Book of Lives, has been accepted for publication, and I'm waiting for the contract. It's been a lean time between slim volumes, although I have kept my hand in with magazine one-offs, anthologies and so on. So I'm not finished yet.

Perhaps this will even bestir me to sort out the problems with the damn screenplay, bloody frustrating because it is really just one scene I can't crack. It happens to affect a lot of others, otherwise I'd just try faking it, skidding over it. Sid Field's Screenwriters' Problem Solver points out it's a problem of structure. Very helpful I'm sure, since the (very ambitious) structure of the script is one of its big selling points .... Oh, was I thinking out loud?

Bought the box set of Rome: Season 1 yesterday. It's a whacking great thing, and once you remove the outer sleeve, you find an actual box, made of some composite, probably from paper pulp, but which gives a fair sense of "boxness". I have't seen any of it before, because of the lateness of the hour when it was broadcast, with an 18SNVL rating -- the full set of sex, nudity, violence and language, yay! Now I will try to ration myself to one episode at a time, although there are a lot of 'em, raising the danger of overrunning the second season.

While on this subject, does anyone know when or, indeed, if there will be a second season of Life on Mars? After a favourable mention by Pashmina, I bought the first season at HIV while in London in May. Now I have two copies, because it had slipped my mind that I had already advance-ordered it from Amazon. To my great irritation, the secod copy arrived shortly after my return. So I lent my set out to friends and gave the Amazon box to my daughter. Now they all plead piteously for news of a second go-round.

The series did not make it on to BBC World, due to a schedule gunged up by almost daily episodes of Keeping Up Appearances and other old favourites. Are we really so unsophisticated in the colonies? The only new arrival is Cutting It, which seemed very lame and silly judging from the single episode I watched. However, the new Lynda LaPlante series The Commander is on another channel late at night. Spiffing, especially the formidable Amanda Burton, but past my bedtime. So I am now the owner of a settop box with 80 hrs of recording time, so I can "time-shift" all the stuff I haven't got time to catch -- and then sit looking at the playlist and wondering how I am ever going to watch all of it anyway.

Other interesting TV stuff: Invasion (aliens splash down to breed with our wimmin, an ancient plot updated very well). Curious coincidence, the arriving hurricane bringing the alien hordes is called Miranda, which is what I called the one in my SF screenplay (with The Tempest as its template). So I'll have to hope Ariel doesn't get taken before I can get greenlighted (yeah, right). In Justice: law firm takes on unjust convictions, headed by Kyle McLachlan, whose abundant sweeping black hair is starting to look like a stealth jet. It's very amusing to see him trying to do "emotion". And I've become addicted to House. I missed it first time round, when I was on a "no-TV" diet, but the "Series Channel" is rerunning the first series. I fear Hugh Laurie is destroying his vocal cords with that coffee-grinding bass baritone. Ian McShane is also swimming back on to our screens in that stream of fascinating filth that is D
eadwood. It's a bit disconcerting because I keep on thinking of him as the lovable rascal in Lovejoy.

Why I am watching so much TV is painfully obvious. I can kid myself it may trigger an idea of how to solve my structure problem ...