Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sherlock by any other name

Well,this new Sherlock Holmes is very new. Gone is the Basil Rathbone dignity and cool cogitation accompanied by an oafish or pedestrian Dr. Watson. Here is an English public schoolboy duo, delighting in each other's idiosyncrasies and quite a lot of blokey mayhem. It hasn't quite crept into the 21st Century - the women are very wicked or very good and both are very beautiful and astonishingly over made up but it is a real 'shot in the arm' so to speak and genuinely exciting.

Apart from Robert Downey Jnr's beautiful copy of an English accent, there is Guy Ritchie's take on Victorian violence which gives the rather slight leading man a sense of real threat and the fights a horrifying structure. As the pair meander through the highways and low roads of London, the CGI builds a wonderful vision of the city which has been the back drop for so many familiar tales. What a feast Dickens would have made of this with the murky waters of the Thames and all its elaborate grubby shipping springing to life. You can almost see Abel Magwitch scudding past in another small vessel as they build up to the ending.

You do get the idea that Jude Law and Robert Downey Jnr enjoyed working together - I thought I saw a smile that seemed to me like a real 'corpse' near the end but it only makes the japes jollier. I enjoyed the dismantling of the creepy events in a wonderful period style dissection near the end but the opening scenes were really stunning. A black carriage hurries through the narrow darkened streets while a figure runs parallel to it - they approach a gateway - a lead horse rears up but the momentum carries the contraption through and they hurry onward.

I have driven a horse and carriage and if that had happened to me, I may not have lived to tell the tale.

To see a trailer of 'Sherlock Holmes', click here:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Prisoner of Time

The first film I ever saw was Hitchcock's 'The Lady Vanishes". The second was 'The Prisoner of Zenda'. Recently I found a cassette of 'The Prisoner of Zenda' and it was startling to realise that the version I remember is the Ronald Colman film of 1937 and that the remake with Deborah Kerr and Stewart Grainger is a shot by shot copy, filmed in 1952.

And what a little horror it is too. I've watched Grainger in wonderful English melodramas where his sincerity and manly bravura suited the medium perfectly and I've even seen him get away with those terrible tights cum pantaloon things they make him wear but as, the lover of Deborah Kerr, he is hopeless. Playing the high born princess doomed to marry the wrong man, Deborah Kerr is dressed in a cross between a Gaiety Girl's ball gown and Dior's 'New Look' with the result that she looks both arch and tarty at the same time. The film has a woeful 'mincing' air and, in one startling sequence during the coronation, the guardsmen launch into a 'Folies Bergere' routine inter cut with location shots of a cannonade! What IS going on?

I think the earlier version is that rare thing, a creature suited to its time. It is set in a fictional small country reflecting the ancient internecine quarrels of the numerous small kingdoms of Eastern Europe with the added forboding of the war with Germany that was shortly to come. Some of the cast would serve in the army for the full duration of WW2 and there is a sense of masculine steel despite the whimsicality of the plot and their diminutive physiques. This strange combination of silliness and muscle seems to lend the whole thing gravitas. Even the costuming is an echo of the Court wear of the 19th century without any of the mawkish Nazi - like outfits of the 50's version.

I suppose, if there is anything for an actor to appreciate in these films, apart from a love of Ronald Colman, it is that there is a time and place for everything, remakes are rubbish and some actors can rise to almost any challenge.

In this excerpt , you can witness the ancient art of making 50 people fill up a palace!

Click here to see the 1937 version of 'The Prisoner of Zenda'