Hell is a City.

The original novel.
Detective Inspector Harry Martineau.
This British thriller from Val Guest was certainly influenced by  the British New Wave  film movement and I would also suggest by 1940’s, 50’s film noir from America. Guest was a very versatile film director a skillful craftsman that tackled all types of genre including comedy, science fiction, musicals, war films, costume drama’s, spy stories and of cause thrillers.  Hell is a City (1960) is British crime drama at its very best, made in the days when you could still be sentenced to hang for murder[1]which added an extra element of tension to already tense storyline.  Based on a book of the same name that was written by a man who knew his business, Maurice Procter was a policeman in the Manchester area for many years.

The gangster and the bookies wife.
The film stars Stanley Baker, who plays Detective Inspector Harry Martineau, the last time Baker would play a police officer in a feature film. Martineau is a rather cynical man in an unhappy marriage to Julia (Maxine Audley) who refuses to have children. When Don Starling (American actor John Crawford) escapes part way into a 14-year prison sentence killing a warden, the Inspector is quickly on his trail. Harry knows that Starling will return to Manchester to retrieve the hidden proceeds of a robbery, £5000 worth of stolen jewels and to take his revenge on the man that put him away in the first place, school friend and army buddy: Harry Martineau. Bookmakers assistant Cecily Wainwright is robbed on her way to depositing the days taking in the bank from local bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasence).   During the robbery Cecily is killed and her young body is dumped on the moors at Oldham. Martineau is beginning to think that Starlings escape and the robbery could be linked!

The barmaid who offers Harry some home comforts. 
I can’t emphasize more the worth of this film. Shot in Hammerscope by Arthur Grant who was at his best photographing urban landscape making them real and gritty and appear as tough, exciting and dangerous as any big American city like New York or Chicago. Stanley Black’s (West 11 (1963)) score fits like a glove. As does the casting that also includes, Billie Whitelaw, Warren Mitchell and a sensual Vanda Godsell who plays a barmaid that offers our unhappily married police inspector more than a whiskey.  This gem of a British noir is sharp and well directed by Guest with plenty of detail that makes it compliant with modern TV police procedural dramas giving us an uncomfortable view of the criminal underworld and a realistic view of the police scuppering their Dixon of Dock Green persona. Very highly recommended.[2]

[1] My very first school was very close to Pentonville Prison in London and on the mornings of the hangings it was a very surreal atmosphere in the classroom as the prison clock finished striking nine you knew, even as a young child, that a person had just fallen through the gallows trap door and had there neck broken!

[2] Images provided by Lavenshulm: Hell is a City File. 

About Elly

Winding up my ramble on Asghar Farhadi’s break through film, A Separation (2011) which won a very well deserved Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, I wrote that I was hoping to sample further works from this Iranian director, at this weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club I got my wish. A short introduction from our host for the evening, Mr Steven Pickering, was followed by the film Farhadi made prior to A Separation, About Elly (2009) that has finally being released in the UK.  With another of his films, Fireworks Wednesday(2006) which won the Gold Hugo at the 2006 Chicago International Film Festival, due out on DVD fairly soon.

A weekend away for s group of friends!

Steve informed us that this Persian language film we were about to watch was critically well received in its own country and had fortunately not offended Iran’s ruling Ayatollahs who had recently censored and jailed one of Farhadi’s directorial colleague’s.  In fact one year after its release it was voted the 4th greatest Iranian movie of all time by the National Society of Iranian Critics!

Elly last seen flying a Kite.
What begins, as a straightforward relationship drama becomes what Steve describes as a ‘Hitchcockian mystery thriller’? Its involves three middle class couples from Tehran who are old friends from college Amir and Sepideh, Peyman and Shohreh and Manouchehr and Nassi who drive with their children to the seaside for the weekend. Also accompanying them are Nassi’s brother Ahmad, recently divorced and back from living in Germany and Sepideh’s daughters’ schoolteacher Elly. Sepidah persuaded Elly to come hoping to do some matchmaking between her and the handsome Ahmad. Things begin to go a little pear shaped when the villa that Sepideh had booked for the weekend is only available for one night, which apparently Sepideh already knew! She tells the landlady that Ahmad and Elly are newly weds and therefore securing a villa on the very edge of the Caspian Sea.  Events take a turn for the worse the following day when Peyman’s son has to be rescued from drowning and Elly goes missing.

Has Peyman's really lost his son?

This is a film primarily about the Tehrani middleclass and how they adapt modern life to their faith and how a small lie can lead to a tremendous untruth that can effect the lives of many people, something that could happen any where in the world but when a religion takes its laws seriously it can have terrible repercussions, far more than say in this country where things like infidelity are not taken seriously any longer.

Is all hope fading that they can retrieve what the friends have lost?

Although a little long this psychological thriller has an absorbing storyline helped by the superb direction of Asghar Farhadi[1]and his handling of the extremely good cast who with the exception of Peyman Moodi, who plays Peyman in this movie and played Nader in A Separation, were all Iranian born. Iranian made films, at least the one’s I’ve seen, do seem to lack humour but I wonder if that’s in the translation? Farhadi assumes his audience to be intelligent people therefore he does not provide us with a musical soundtrack and we are left to determine the ‘mood’ of the film ourselves, I for one appreciate the complement.

The cast at the Berlin Film Festival.

[1] His efforts earned him the Silver Bear for Best director at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

Tuxpan el puerto del Granma

Llegamos. Cruzamos el ancho río. Ha pasado tanta agua debajo del puente. Uno de los años en que más fue 1999. Después de comer caminamos por la ribera izquierda. Va caudaloso al mar que está cerca. En la otra ribera se ve la Casa Museo de Amistad México - Cuba. De ahí, de Santiago de la Peña, partió el Granma hace 56 años. Sus tripulantes y pasajeros fueron a hacer triunfar su Revolución. Se marcó un hito en la historia de Cuba, de América Latina y del mundo El agua sigue su fluir lento, suave, como en aquel año 1956.

El modernismo provinciano de la autoridad municipal ha hecho plantar palmeras sintéticas y luminosas por la noche, precisamente donde hay palmeras naturales.

Aún puede verse el contraste de las construcciones modernas que miran al mar, al lado de las viviendas que persisten de antigua época.

Y el agua sigue fluyendo lentamente mientras el Sol desaparece en el ocaso de la tarde dominical.


Its 1944, Britain has lost the war and has been invaded. In a welsh farming community the menfolk have left to join the local resistance movement, leaving their wives and families to run the farms and wait the invading forces. At first the women give the Germans the cold shoulder but when the harshness of winter descends they find it ever harder to resist help from whatever quarter.  

The main focus of our story involves Sarah, whose husband Tom is one of those that left, and Albrecht the good-looking German Commanding officer. It’s the relationship that grows between them that forms the backbone of Resistance (2011). The original story is based on a novel of the same name by Owen Sheers who shared screenwriting duties with first time feature film director Amit Gupta. The acting is as good as you would expect from the likes of  Andrea Riseborough as Sarah and from German actor Tom Wlaschiha as Albrecht with an appearance from a criminally underused Michael Sheen who plays Tommy Atkins a secret service agent.

The invading forces enjoy the local 'show'
Don’t expect any real action, its more of a relationship drama than a war film with, admittedly, some great Welsh landscape shots which certainly highlighted the four seasons which is not surprising when you realise that the film had financial support from Film Agency Wales! The film is disappointing, building very little tension or any real excitement and involves some classic plot holes that leave you completely in the dark one of which includes a medieval European map of the world referred to as the Mappa Mundi which Albrecht finds in a packing case in a cave high in the Welsh hills! To sum up: a pretty travelogue, with another decent performance from Riseborough, but none of the normal wartime action. 

Gradually being excepted by the locals.

The Spy Who Came in from The Cold.

Check Point Charlie.

Espionage is the preserve of ‘a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards, little men, just like me: drunkards, queers, hen pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives’ as John Le Carre’s character Alec Leamas explains, demystifying spying as an honorable pursuit.  There is no victory in the Cold War, only a condition of human illness and a political misery[1] So no Bond type fantasy world for the British author who under his real name, David Cornwell, worked for both MI5 and MI6 before leaving British intelligence and become a very successful full-time novelist.

Leamas's agent crosses the border between East and West.

Its 1963 and Berlin has been divided for the last two years. Leamas has reached the end of his tether when the last of his agents is shot dead crossing from the east to the west. He is recalled back to London by control to be demoted to the banking section of the agency. Now depressed and turning more and more to alcohol he is quickly spotted by the East German Intelligence Service as a potential defector. But as normal with MI6 nothing is what it seems.  

a bunch of seedy squalid bastards.........

.......drunkards, queers and hen pecked husbands.

It’s the Alec Leamas character that dominates the first of Le Carre’s novels to be adapted for the cinema. The award winning The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), for all its Britishness, was directed by an American of some renowned Martin Ritt and starred Richard Burton as Leamas, Claire Bloom as Nan Perry the naïve girlfriend with Austrian actor Oskar Werner as Fiedler, a man with his own agenda. A host of other well-known characters actors help make this bleak black and white cold war film totally believable and still one of the best of its kind.

Leamas meets Nan Perry.

[1] John Le Carre May 1966.