Lavender Hill Mob (1951) – Updated

33bec-lavenderhill1Here is a madcap comedy heist film that differs from the usual stories we are used to. First of all it stars Alec Guinness as an English foundry worker and the mastermind behind a gold heist. Except he is far from the criminal type (more of an English gentlemen actually) and so his attempt to snag the gold although clever has many problems. Rather than being tragic this tale is far more humorous and light with crazy chase scenes and humorous characters. If you want dark moody drama I would recommend The Asphalt Jungle or The Killing instead. You will find none of that type of violence here.

I hope to watch more from the Ealing Studios soon because like The Archers, these films seem quintessentially English which I am a fan of.  Aside from Guinness, Stanley Holloway gives a delightful performance as a partner in crime and there is also a very early appearance by Audrey Hepburn.

4.5/5 Star

Review: Star Wars (1977)

ccbff-starwars1Star Wars has such a giant mythology and full-blown culture surrounding it that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the entire galaxy from the film franchise. It is so much more than just a movie with a plot and some characters going on an adventure. Sure, George Lucas let his boyhood imagination run wild taking pages out of numerous playbooks from John Ford’s westerns, Kurosawa’s samurai, and the serialized sci-fi adventures of Buck Rogers.

However, when I look at this classic that I grew up with for so many years now, it is nearly impossible to shed the role of a pure fan and take on the role of a film critic. One prime example would be Sir Alec Guinness. All my knowledge of film history tells me he is one of the greatest English actors of all time and for good reason. However, there is also this innate conflict that says he’s Obi Wan Kenobi since that’s what I knew him for originally. That’s what I identify him with, and I probably always will. Because, as I said before, Star Wars: A New Hope (As it was later titled) means so much to so many people like me on a personal level.

But let me hold off on that for a moment and focus on Star Wars the film. First and foremost, you would be hard-pressed to find a more colorful array of characters. C3PO and R2D2 are the films jesters and the story is told from point of view, to begin with. You have the hapless farmboy, the wise old man, a spunky princess, a dashing tough guy, and his ever faithful fuzzy sidekick. Not to mention the greatest, most imposing villain every developed for the silver screen. It took some developing with three different actors, a mask, a cape, and SCUBA sounds all joined to create his persona.

That aside, the world Lucas created is so astounding and inventive that it has become second nature to true Star War fans. Jawas on Tatooine, the Cantina in Mos Eisley, and Storm Troopers on the Death Star are simply a no brainer. They are part of our lexicon just as many of these quotes easily roll off our tongue. “May the force be with you,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” You get the idea.

Then, it goes without saying that John Williams propelled this film from being good to great. Because without his iconic scoring, Star Wars is just not the same. It lacks the same energy and epic vibrancy that pulses through every scene. One prime example is the final scene in the Throne Room on Yavin IV. That could have been the longest most awkward award ceremony in history.  When you think about it, no one is talking, they just stare at each other as the medals get bestowed. But with Williams score, it develops a grand crescendo that caps the film on the highest notes as the credits role.

I am also convinced that Ben Burtt is a genius because he breathed still more life into the Star Wars world through his sound design. He gave us blaster noises, RD-D2’s “voice,” Chewie’s distinctive growls, and of course the hum of lightsabers and Darth Vader’s iconic breathing. A personal favorite of mine is the ever present Wilhelm Scream, but I digress.

Thus, what we witnessed the first time we saw Star Wars (followed by countless more times) was not just a film, but a revolution, and I’m not just talking about the rebel alliance blowing up the Death Star.

As I suggested before, Star Wars is so affecting because it is not simply a movie we watch. In many respects, it brings up flashbulb memories in our lives. I remember birthday parties, childhood afternoons playing Legos, or being a Jedi with my very own lightsaber. Star Wars infected my entire adolescence and so when I watch this film it causes all the many great memories to flood back.

It is a joy to watch it again because I almost feel like a kid once more, experiencing the same excitement all over again as if it’s the first time around. My taste in films may continue to mature and evolve, but I dearly hope I never lose my affinity for Star Wars. In many, it would be like losing some of my memories and even a little bit of my humanity.

Not to worry, though, because based on this most recent viewing I will not be dismissing Star Wars any time soon. As some wise man once  said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I forgot how much I missed “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” It was great seeing an old friend.

5/5 Stars

The Best Films of Alec Guinness

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
2. Star Wars
3. Kind Hearts and Coronets
4. Great Expectations
5. Lawrence of Arabia
6. Doctor Zhivago
7. The Lavender Hill Mob
8. The Lady Killers
9. Oliver Twist
10. The Man in the White Suit
11. The Horse’s Mouth
12. The Empire Strikes Back
13. Our Man in Havana
14. Tunes of Glory
15. Last Holiday
16. Return of the Jedi
17. The Fall of the Roman Empire
18. A Passage to India

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

1dadb-the_lavender_hill_mobStarring Alec Guinness and David Holloway this Ealing Studios comedy-heist film begins with an older man recounting how he got away with a large amount of gold bullion. His job had been to ride with gold shipments while they were transported. However, soon he met a quirky fellow partial to art and together they devised a plan to get the gold. They enlisted the help of two small-time criminals. The day of the caper was far from smooth and they must improvise. With luck they get away and the two instigators take their prize to Paris. There they have disastrous results and arrive back in England eventually to even more craziness. This film had endearing characters and its share of comical moments. If you pay attention you can see a young Audrey Hepburn for a blink of an eye near the beginning too!

4.5/5 Stars

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


A film of truly epic proportions, in length, scenery, and brilliance, Lawrence of Arabia is essential cinema. Peter O’Toole delivers a stellar performance as T.E. Lawrence, a British soldier during World War I. The movie begins with his death from a motorcycle crash, which gives an early glimpse of the character.

Then, a flashback goes to his time in Arabia where his task was to unite the Arab tribes, and lead them in rebellion against the enemy so the British might win. Against the better judgment of his commanding officer, a Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau suggests Lawrence be sent to assess the possibility of an Arab revolt against the Turks. Lawrence heads with his guide to pay a visit to Prince Faisal. However, his guide is shot by another man and Lawrence resolves to make the journey alone. Their paths cross again in the camp of Faisal. There Lawrence interests the Prince because his ideas are far different from his commanding officer.

Showcasing his audaciousness Lawrence suggests a bold attack on Acaba which would allow the British to bring in supplies. He leads a group of men across the brutal desert knowing that this will be less expected. Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif) doubts it will work and disapproves that Lawrence takes two young outcasts as his servants. It is later during the journey that Lawrence truly wins over the other men, including Ali, because he is relentless, even going back for a lost straggler. With some luck, Lawrence is able to gain the help of Auda Abu Tayi, but it is not without tension. Ultimately, his forces are able to take out the Turks, and Lawrence heads back to Cairo to relay his progress. However, on the way back he must struggle with the loss of a servant and the guilt of executing a man.

Lawrence is sent back to Arabia and there he leads his forces in guerrilla operations against the Turkish railroads. His exploits are documented by an American newsman, and by this point, he has become a mythical hero among his followers. However, after going to scout a town the seemingly invincible Lawrence is ultimately flogged and tortured, leaving him a broken shell of a man. He insists on leaving Arabia but his new commander, General Allenby orders him back for one final push towards Damascus.

This final mission sees a change in Lawrence, who has hired killers and missionaries to help him in his siege. Against the better judgment of Sherif Ali, Lawrence leads a massacre of Turks as they move onward. He takes Damascus, but his fragmented counsel of Arabs are unable to unite, and the city is given back to the English. Major Lawrence is promoted once more to Colonel, and then gets shipped home because his services are no longer necessary.

This is one of those films you want to see on the big screen because the scenery and cinematography is just that impressive by itself. David Lean had a skill at making epics, and this is perhaps his masterpiece. The desert is often stark and desolate, and yet striking in the same instance. The expanse of space that is viewed in a single shot is often mind-blowing. A human being on the horizon is hardly a speck, and the ever-present camels are hardly any more substantial. To complement these grand images is an equally magnificent score by Maurice Jarre, complete with overture and all. The cast must be mentioned too with such supporting stars as Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, and Anthony Quayle.

Then, of course, there is the man who played Lawrence. As portrayed so wonderfully by Peter O’Toole, Lawrence is an intelligent and, at times, arrogant man, who can be odd, distant, audacious, and also unscrupulous. That being said, he was an extraordinary man who was a mover and a leader of men. A very unique, at times controversial, and long unheralded man, who contributed to the war effort in a far different way.  In many ways, he was an adopted brother to the Arabs, and their country was also his. He was “Lawrence of Arabia.”

5/5 Stars

The Lady Killers (1955)

c0838-the_ladykillers_posterStarring Alec Guinness, this is a unique and often hilarious black comedy caper film by the Ealing Studios. The adventure begins with the quirky criminal mastermind, Guinness, renting a room from an old woman. Soon his masquerading accomplices arrive. The five of them plan to commit a robbery and when the day comes things start off smoothly. However, they have the unknowing old woman pick up their prize and chaos follows her. The men get the money but before they can escape the lady accidentally finds out. The latter half of the film follows the double crossing antics of the criminals as they try to run off with the money while trying to figure out who will do the unpleasant job of knocking off the lady. Needless to say they don’t succeed. I was wary of this movie at first but it was actually very enjoyable because of the comedic and odd scenario. Keep your eyes on a young Peter Sellers as well as Herbert Lom.

4.5/5 Stars

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

d4c15-kind_hearts_and_coronetsStarring Dennis Price and Alec Guinness (in eight roles), this black comedy follows a commoner who tries to avenge his mother by killing eight relatives. The story begins with a man about to be hung and as he waits, he writes his memoir. Through a flashback, his childhood and adult life is shown. He worked tirelessly to move up in society and he also did away with everyone standing between him and the Dukedom (all played by Guinness). Things get complicated when he is about to marry a deceased victim’s wife and then a childhood beau tries to blackmail him. Ironically, the one murder he did not mean to commit is the one for which he gets caught. Yet there is still hope, or is there? Price plays the young and clever English gentleman very well and needless to say Guinness is extremely funny. Also, the two female characters are different but both good in their own right.

5/5 Stars

Great Expectations (1946)

ad366-great_expectationsWith director David Lean, and starring John Mills as Pip, the film begins with Pip as a young boy. Upon meeting a fugitive, Pip show him kindness and the man promises he will return the favor. A year or so later Pip begins to go to the home of an eccentric, rich widow to call on her. There he meets the lady’s adopted daughter Estelle and he falls for her. Now an adult, Pip learns he has a mysterious beneficiary who is paying for him to move to London to be a Gentleman. There he interacts with Mr. Wemmick, the attorney of Mr. Jaggers, and also Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness). Then, someone shows up on his doorstep and changes his world. Soon he is orchestrating an escape for his friend, saying goodbye to the cold Estelle, and showing his displeasure for the elderly Ms. Havisham. However, in the end he learns a happy truth and reunites with Estelle. This moody, Dickens adaption actually has an optimistic side which is a nice change.

5/5 Stars

Star Wars (1977)

568ac-starwarsmovieposter1977Arguably one of the most successful franchises ever, it is easy to understand how Star Wars became so popular. This galaxy far far away and the characters that graced the screen were so intriguing. You had Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and of course Darth Vader. The idea of George Lucas which seemed laughable at first, quickly became a hit. I have always been enthralled with Star Wars like many others before me. However, after watching the original saga again it became clear how wonderful these films were because the tales they told were so fun and entertaining. The relatively simple story of this small time farm boy deciding to fight against evil in the galaxy has always been enjoyable. On top of that the action was great and the characters were even better. This is still one of my favorite films all time easily.

5/5 Stars

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

f1d1f-the_bridge_on_the_river_kwai_posterStarring Alec Guinness and William Holden with director David Lean, this is a World War II film that follows the exploits of British POWs and also Allies on a secret mission. Guinness is the proud and principled British Colonel who leads his men in a memorable entrance. With stubbornness he wages a war of wits against the Japanese camp overseer. He inspires his men and eventually reaches his goal of personally leading them in the completion of the bridge. At the same time an American soldier (Holden) attempts escape and somehow winds up alive and safe. However, all too soon he is sent right back with specialized commandos to destroy the bridge. In a chaotic and tragic finale, the British colonel puts a wrench in the plans and the implications are costly even though the objective is achieved. This is a magnificent and enjoyable film with good cinematography, interesting characters, a two-sided story, and of course whistling!

5/5 Stars