FiLM REViEW: Planes, Trains & Automobiles, 1987

Of course I’ve seen this movie before. It’s one of those they put on every Xmas. But you can really see why. It’s a lovely film. Schmaltzy? Hell, yes!

The moment the odd couple first meet.

Steve Martin is city slicker ad exec Neal Page, who winds up sharing an adventurous road trip with larger than life curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith, played by John Candy. Director John Hughes is very good at this sort of thing. And Martin and Candy are perfect in their roles.

Travelling by bus…

Themes that it touches upon are friendship, family, and coping with adversity. What relation it has to any form of reality, who knows? But it’s a pitch-perfect Holiday Season movie, a Hollywood dream-machine confection par excellence.

Funny, moving, it’s a real pleasure to watch.

MEDiA: The Titfield Thunderbolt, 1953

What a strange film! More by modern standards than those of the day. Filmed in glorious Technicolor – it was the first Ealing comedy filmed in the new format – it’s a picture postcard fantasy of a certain time in and idea of England.

In essence it’s s comedy about the beginnings of ‘heritage’ railways; as the state withdrew from steam locomotion, the public stepped in. Apparently it’s even based on a real Welsh example, which was allegedly the very first such heritage line. It’s noteworthy that this is a whole decade before the infamous Beeching axe would fall.

Stanley Holloway as Walter Valentine.

Visually it’s beautiful, a celluloid time-capsule. And it’s also quite sweet in how it portrays the era. There’s a just post-WWII ‘Blitz spirit’, as when the passengers of the train all pitch in to get water, after the dastardly bus crew get Harry Hawkins (Sid James) to sabotage the water supply.

There are some thumping great ironies in there, as well, as witness, for example, when there’s a joke about how, if the railway makes too much profit, they’ll be nationalised! Modern history has demonstrated, over and over again, especially under Toryism, that losses are usually passed on to the public purse, whilst profit is privatised.

The Vicar and the drunk, crewing the train.

And then there also all sorts of moments, for example at the public meeting, when Squire Chesterford (John Gregson) makes the case for the railway, as opposed to bus/road developments, on the basis of how it’ll change the nature of Titfield. He mentions old country lanes getting tarmac’ed and houses being numbered, not named.

Of course the trains themselves were at one time the harbingers of modern doom. But now they are – and evidently even back in ‘53 they were – the stuff of ‘olde England’! And there are many other little interesting insights into certain visions of how life was then (the squire and the poacher!), progress, and what makes for the ideal life.

Lovely old Bedford bus.

One of the things I like most about this film is the saturated slightly gaudy colour, AKA Technicolor. It’s very like the intense colouring of some design and illustration of that era. And so many things, from clothes, to furniture to cars, trucks, etc, are so much more aesthetically pleasing than so much modern mass-produced tat.

For example, the old Bedford OG bus, of the villainous rivals of the loco’ lovers, Pearce & Crump, is gorgeous. And I absolutely adore the upholstery fabric inside the bus:

Dig that old fabric!

It has to be admitted I was only half watching the film, whilst Teresa and I played our Sunday afternoon Scrabble game, in between World Cup match viewing. I really ought to watch it again and give it my full attention.

But it seems to me good solid old-fashioned period ‘50s fun. I’d definitely recommend it.

FiLM REViEW: Custer of the West, 1967

Despite the rather ludicrous liberties taken with the real historical Custer, and a few set pieces that seem a bit odd and gratuitous – Sgt. Buckley’s lengthy but ultimately pointless log-flume escape for example – there’s enough here to enjoy. 

Robert Shaw has sufficient charisma to play the part, even if it’s a part as muddled as the movie itself. Show’s Custer, a humourless puritanical martinet, who’s dedication to military duty makes his Washington episode rather odd, esp’ when contrasted with his later career fighting the ‘Injuns’. 

The production is pretty epic, with large numbers of extras and the landscapes (Spain, or so I’ve read!) playing their parts in evoking the grand spectacles of the ol’ West. Such scenes as the attack on the gold-miners train, featuring a model of a high wooden rail bridge, are valiantly done, but, from a modern post CGI perspective can occasionally look rather clunky. 

Numerous actors – Robert Ryan as the doomed Sgt. Mulligan, Ty Hardin, Jeffrey Hunter and Lawrence Tierney as Reno, Bentine and Sheridan (all suitably manly, but otherwise rather one-dimensional) – acquit themselves reasonably enough. But Custer’s wife, played by Mary Ure, and his Nemesis, Kieron Moore in ‘red-face’ as Chief Dull Knife, lack presence. 

The film also tries to bighorn (titter!), er… sorry, shoe-horn numerous disparate threads into one overall narrative, with mixed success. These range from facing up to the guilt of American crimes against the indigenous ’Indians’, to the changing culture of that era, from the theatre (where Custer sees himself depicted) to armoured railroads, harbingers of a machine age which threatens Custer’s ideas of equine war with honour!

But nonetheless, for all this, I have dim recollections of the powerful impact portions of this movie had on me as a kid. An even now there are moments when it is either moving, exciting, or both. And some of the various sundry sub-plots alluded to above are also actually interesting. 

Still, all told, and despite the occasional flashes of interest or excitement, it’s a bit of a muddled mess. Not quite a massacre, perhaps. But confused, disjointed, and fluctuating wildly, even in its entertainment value. A long way off being a classic. But still worth watching.