Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Where No Vultures Fly (1951)
Anthony Steel
These days, when we think of Ealing Studios, we tend only to think of the period during which Michael Balcon and his team produced a series of comedies which are so often seen as defining so much of English life.
Yet at the same time, Ealing Studios produced a wide range of other films including this colonial tale set in Kenya which was actually one of the company's greatest hits.
Where no Vultures Fly is the fictionalised story of Mervyn Cowie who was the driving force behind the creation of Kenya's National Parks. Bob Payton (Anthony Steel) is a game warden who grows sick of the wanton destruction of the country's wildlife by big game hunters ...

... who do nothing but kill animals for trophies ...

 ... who successfully lobbies for a game park to be set up. As he describes it "the stink of death was everywhere", courtesy of the hunters, who leave carcases to rot, thus attracting vultures. His aim is to drive away the hunters and see a sky where, without carcases to gorge on, no vultures fly.
Of course, life isn't that easy. He faces the local tribes ...
 ... opposition from the authorities, the farmers and the game hunters. He also faces opposition from his wife Mary (Dinah Sheridan) who doesn't want to live in a tent in the middle of nowhere and would prefer their son Tim (William Simons) to attend school.
Anthony Steel, William Simons and Dinah Sheridan
Anthony Steel and Dinah Sheridan
Of course, Bob thwarts the opposition ...
... and the National Park finally becomes a success.
One has to wonder why this film was such a success. I'm tempted to say that the British public were enthused by the film's sense of post-colonialism/imperialism - that they felt sympathy for Bob Payton and his quest to establish a place where the white settlers and local tribes could work together for the good of the natural world. Or maybe audiences recognised themselves in Bob: a man who is wholeheartedly sick of war and killing and just wants to live in peace.
Or maybe audiences flocked to the cinema simply because all the family wanted to see lions, snakes and elephants in colour?
I'll let you be the judge.
Available from Amazon.

This original poster from the film's British release is currently available from Greg Edwards:

The Woman in Question (1950)
Jean Kent
If you have read other entries on this blog, you'll be aware that I am something of a Jean Kent fan. So it gives me great pleasure to be reviewing what many people consider her finest performance. Unlike most of her films, where she takes a supporting role (usually as someone's less than respectable girlfriend) here Kent takes centre stage - as a murder victim.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks as the police, led by Superintendent Lodge (Duncan Macrae) ...
Superintendent Lodge (Duncan Macrae) interviews a witness
... interviews witnesses and potential suspects, each of whom reveal a different version of the Agnes (Jean Kent).
First comes neighbour Mrs Finch (Hermione Baddeley) and her son Alfie (Robert Scroggins):
Hermione Baddeley

Robert Scroggins
In the version told by Mrs Finch, Agnes is a lovely lady ...
Jean Kent
... whose life has been turned upside down by the wartime injuries to her husband which have left him confined to hospital and her struggling to support herself.
That version isn't supported by the next witness, Catherine Taylor (Susan Shaw) who is the sister of the victim:
Susan Shaw
Catherine paints a very different picture of her sister ...
Jean Kent

Jean Kent

Jean Kent
... rather than the sweet lady recognised by Mrs Finch, Catherine sees Agnes as a disreputable drunk: the slattern who wakes up in torn underwear after a night of god knows what. A woman who can't be bothered to make time to see her sick husband and only married him to get her hands on his wages as a Petty Officer in the Merchant Navy.
Next up is Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde) ...
Dirk Bogarde
... a struggling music hall performer who tried to get Agnes to appear as his sidekick in his stage act. He is frustrated by her constant failure to learn her routine which prevents him honing his act.
Jean Kent
He sees her as a timewasting temptress, who thinks she can around him in the same way she gets around other men. 
Irish sailor Michael Murray (John McCallum) sees another version of Agnes:
Jean Kent & John McCallum
To him, Agnes is great fun and, as he admits to the investigating officers, she was the love he had always been looking for. Yet their relationship had also been tempestuous.
Then there's pet shop owner Arthur Pollard (Charles Victor) ...
Charles Victor
... a neighbour who Agnes uses to do odd jobs around the house. Charles, a widower, was in love with her and hoped to marry her. In his eyes, Agnes was a beautiful and respectable lady:
Jean Kent
 But which portrayal of Agnes is the truth? And, more to the point, who killed her? The prime suspects are Bob Baker and Michael Murray, but what about the others.
If you want to find out, you'll just have to watch the film.
Elsewhere, look out for:
Vida Hope (left) & Lana Morris
Joe Linnane & John Boxer
Anthony Dawson
As a final point, I must say that Susan Shaw has never looked lovelier than in this film, so here she is again:
Susan Shaw

Susan Shaw

It's also worth noting that Dirk Bogarde wears the same jacket as her wore in The Blue Lamp:
Jean Kent & Dirk Bogarde
Dirk Bogarde in The Blue Lamp
P.S. Apart from playing the same character five times, Jean Kent also provided the voice for her pet parrot!
The Final Programme (1973)
(aka The Last Days of Man on Earth)
"I have it on very good authority that the world is coming to an end, So I thought I'd go and watch it on television."
Directed by Robert Fuest (of The Abominable Dr Phibes fame), The Final Programme is a curious film. Set in a world in the midst of war (the Russians are fighting in Europe, the Vatican has been destroyed and Amsterdam has just been reduced to 28 square miles of white ash by the Americans), mankind appears to be on the brink of disaster. As one character announces: "The Third World War has been going on for years. And everyone has been so bleedin' busy watching the adverts, they haven't noticed." In order to prevent the human race dying out, a mysterious group of scientists attempt to use their skills to create a genetically modified, self-reproducing superman who can survive the apocalypse.
Adapted from a novel by Michael Moorcock, The Final Programme features as its central character Dr Jerry Cornelius, a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Jon Finch plays the role with a delightful sense of mischief, at no point appearing to take the film seriously. He simply appears to be having fun, camping things up as probably the only dandy/playboy scientist in the history of cinema. If you had to describe Finch’s ‘Jerry Cornelius’, you might think of it this way:
Jon Finch
Imagine a modern, ironic remake of Department S, with Johnny Depp playing the Jason King role, but basing it on a mixture of Peter Wyngarde’s original portrayal and the glam-rock swagger of Marc Bolan …
Sandy Ratcliff & Jon Finch
… who appears to survive on a diet of whiskey and digestive biscuits.
The problem is that the film appears to have been made on a tiny budget. The opening scenes appear epic (and raise the viewer’s expectations) but are simply groups of people moving about on an open landscape.
Whilst the shadows displayed by the men carrying the wood for a funeral pyre offer an intriguing parallel to the crucifixion, the imagery seen here offers a promise that is abandoned in later scenes, apart from momentary flashes of stylistic inspiration:

Unfortunately the scale of mankind’s crisis is never really seen except for one simple scene in which a heap of abandoned cars is seen in London’s Trafalgar Square. The rest of society’s collapse is told through conversation – unless you count the sight of nuns playing pinball as being symptomatic of the coming apocalypse.

The budget’s failure to let the director convey the scale of the crisis facing mankind leaves the audience unable to wonder what all the fuss is about.
More to the point, the ending is crap (really crap).
Overall, the film is a disappointment, but remains essential viewing for those with a completist interest in the cinema of the apocalypse.
As someone who has no knowledge of the source material (Michael Moorcock's 1968 novel The Final Programme) I'm perhaps not best placed to give a full and fair appraisal of the film. For anyone interested in learning more, have a look at the Breakfast in the Ruins blog.
One thing to look out for: Here's Jenny Runacre as the mysterious Miss Brunner ...
Jenny Runacre
... With her oversized fur hat, one can't help but make the comparison to Vulnavia, the anti-heroine of Robert Fuest's The Abominable Dr Phibes.
Virginia North
And also of note, Jon Finch's suits were tailored by the legendary Tommy Nutter
Jon Finch in a suit by Tommy Nutter
Here's a look at the rest of the cast:
Graham Crowden

Derrick O'Connor

George Coulouris

Basil Henson

Delores Delmar

Gilles Millinaire

Hugh Griffith

Harry Andrews

Sandy Ratcliff (later to find fame as Sue Osman in EastEnders)

Mary McLeod

Julie Ege

Olga Lowe

Patrick Magee

Ronald Lacey

Sarah Douglas (Best known as the villainess Ursa in Superman and Superman II)

Sandra Dickinson

Sterling Hayden
Available from Network DVD: