Bonus: Bitter Harvest

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Peter Graham Scott

Starring: Janet Munro, John Stride, Terence Alexander, Anne Cunningham, Alan Badel

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Jennie (Munro) is a small town girl living in a lonely world. She takes the midnight train going anywhere. Well, actually, she gets a drunken ride with a couple of older men to their apartment in London and is raped and abandoned. But that doesn’t sound as nice.

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“What do you mean, raped? A beautiful young ginger girl who deliberately drank champagne in the company of strange men cannot possibly be raped.”

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Her whole life she has dreamed of the luxury and fame she’s been sold in commercials and movies, but when she tries to pursue it, she is brutally punished by every man she meets. After the rape, she meets barman Bob (Stride) who invites her to stay with him, and the two start a relationship. However, Jennie is not satisfied with just staying at home and being a girlfriend – she wants a career of her own, which Bob sees as a threat to their relationship. Actually, he sees everyone as a threat to their relationship, and would rather have Jennie stay at home and never talk to anyone but him ever again. When she meets abusive producer Karl Denny (Badel), she immediately (and completely out of character) surrenders to him and leaves Bob.

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“Well, I just figured one abusive asshole is as good as the next. At least he can make me famous.”

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Now, Bitter Harvest is an interesting one. Everything we’ve read about this movie (which, granted, isn’t a lot, but still) seems to suggest Jennie is a manipulative, selfish young woman who will do anything to get ahead, and who doesn’t appreciate what she has. But this is not how we read it at all.

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Even her obliviousness to the attempted seduction when she’s caught in the bathtub seemed genuine and not manipulative

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What we saw was a young, sweet and naïve, though willful, girl who stood up for herself and dreamed of a more exciting life. When she told “nice guy” Bob she was pregnant at their first meeting, she wasn’t lying but thought she told him the truth – she had had sex (read: had been raped) and thus she must be pregnant.

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It’s bad enough waking up naked in a strange man’s bed without having to worry about pregnancy

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Also, she never lies to Bob about what she needs money for, or where she’s going. She just (rightfully) assumes that this is her choice to make, and that if he loves her, he will support her choices. However, despite his kindness in taking her in when they both think she’s pregnant with another man’s child, Bob is a controlling and condescending asshole who resorts to threats and violence when Jennie makes her own choices. When she refuses to leave with him, he tries to strangle her, suggesting he’s not really the nice guy he is painted to be.

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A girl who doesn’t do what you tell her and goes out to see people to further her career even though you told her not to? And then has the audacity to talk back to you, the good guy, when you stalk her to drag her back home? Better strangle that bitch!

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Jennie’s willful and autonomous side is also what makes her complete surrender at Denny’s slap seem out of character. Personally, we feel that in order to control her like that, he needed to build up to it, not slap her on the first night. However, perhaps her hope of a better life blinds her.

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We’re just saying, the Jennie from the first part of the movie would never let herself be slapped into submission. At least not on the first date.

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Finally, just a couple of words about the popular interpretation of her “little black book” that the police find in her apartment: we didn’t interpret that as evidence of her “promiscuity” as many suggest, but as evidence of Denny prostituting her. However, none of us has read the book the movie is based on – our interpretation is based solely on the movie we watched. And in that, we think Jennie has been unfairly treated by several viewers.

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Unfair or not, she gets her punishment in the end, as all willful and ambitious girls must.

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As mentioned, there are some similarities between Jennie and Patsy from The Small World of Sammy Lee, made especially clear to us as we watched them as a double feature. The difference is that Patsy stumbles into the sex trade because of her love for a man, while Jennie falls into it due to ambition and a hope for a better life for herself. Thus, Patsy makes it out while Jennie must be punished. Really – give us time and money and we can probably write a thesis on this. Although we suspect this has already been done many times over…

So, how do we feel about Bitter Harvest? We think it’s an interesting film to watch, but it’s problematic enough that we can see how it has been removed from the list.

What we learned: Apparently, girls should be satisfied with what they have, whether it’s an uneventful life in a small, dead town or as a spouse to a man prone to violence whenever he doesn’t get his way.

Next time: Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

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#232 The Small World of Sammy Lee

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Ken Hughes

Starring: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 47min

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No, we are not dead. We just had to take a small hiatus due to exams and related stress enducing activities which take a lot of time away from writing. But things are calming down (only two weeks until the summer break for some of us!) and we’re ready to get back into it. And we do so with classic British crime film The Small World of Sammy Lee.

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A.k.a. The Loneliness of the Gambling Debt Runner

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Patsy (Foster) arrives at a Soho strip club looking for Sammy Lee (Newley), the compère at the club who she had a fling with, and a job. Unfortunately for her, he’s off gambling and getting further into debt with a local kingpin, so she’s left with his sleazy boss instead.

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Despite Sammy’s absence, Patsy gets an “interview” and is promptly hired.

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Returning to work, Sammy is not overly pleased to learn that Patsy has found a job there, but at least she’s hired as a waitress rather than a stripper. For the time being. Additionally, he receives a call informing him that his debt of £300 is to be collected immediately. Although he does manage to talk the debt collectors into giving him 5 hours to come up with the money.

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“Um, yeah, I totally have that amount of money lying around and will have absolutely no trouble getting my hands on them within the next five hours. Just you wait!”

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Sammy has to pull all his strings, exhaust all his contacts and juggle all his ideas to make the money in the allotted time in order to survive the night. As the night goes on, the deals get shadier and shadier, and he will pull all those who love him down with him.

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Including young, naïve Patsy

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Sammy Lee is charming and funny, but a selfish bastard. His contact with his brother is limited to asking for money, and he has lots of acquaintances and very few friends. He pleads with the men in his life for money, but dismisses all the women who want to help him, probably out of some false sense of chivalry. Poor Patsy deserves better.

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As does Sammy’s ever faithful and loyal friend/sidekick Harry

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The Small World of Sammy Lee is tense and engaging, and we enjoyed it a lot. We also secretly liked the gratuitous strip tease scenes with the elaborate scenarios, despite our lack of understanding of their sexual appeal (might be a gender thing). We loved the properly choreographed numbers, the clear themes, and the contrast between the show and everything happening backstage.

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Note to all: no man is worth participating in an Arabian Nights themed strip tease. If you’re gonna do that, do it for yourself.

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And while we weren’t necessarily fans of Sammy, we really enjoyed Newley’s performance and the character’s ingenuity in trying to raise the money. We watched this as a double feature with Bitter Harvest, and to us, this reads a bit like an alternate reality version of that (which we’ll come to in a few days) with Patsy as a less driven and less autonomous Jennie. But we’ll explore this further in the next blog post.

What we learned: What a compère is. And also, don’t gamble. Although we already knew that.

Next time: Bonus: Bitter Harvest (1963)

#216 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Watched: January 05 2019

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Avis Bunnage, Alec McCowen, James Bolam, Topsy Jane

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Colin Smith (Courtenay), a working class boy with anger issues, is sent to a borstal school (or reform school for those of us not in the know) for burgling a bakery. Once there, he is sorted into Drake House in a ritual we found disappointingly lacking in hats.

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Face says Slytherin. Actions say Gryffindor. Absolutely nothing says Ravenclaw…

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The school’s philosophy is that hard work, discipline, and exercise will put these young men on the right track in life. During training, the governor of the school (Redgrave) observes Colin’s brilliant running skills and takes a special interest in his new pupil.

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By “brilliant running skills” we refer to his speed and endurance. Not running style.

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Colin is given special permission to train outside the school’s fence for an upcoming race against a public school (or private school for those of us not in Britain), and in between training sessions, we get flashbacks to his life before this and the circumstances which led him to this point.

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Before his arrest, he led a happy, fulfilling life, filled with laughter and friends

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Like many of the old dramas we’ve watched in the past few years, we enjoyed this movie so much more than we thought we would. We loved the flashbacks, the smart-ass remarks of our (anti-)hero, Colin’s singular running style, and the clash of cultures in the changing rooms before the race.

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This innocent, outgoing public school kid had no idea about the world he walked into. Or the Quasimodo-looking criminal following him.

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At first, the governor seemed like quite a good guy, but we soon realised that this was mainly due to what we have dubbed the “Michael Redgrave-effect,” in which a character become instantly likable because the actor playing him/her just exudes kindness and benevolence. (See also: The Innocents, in which Redgrave plays the uncle who basically abandons his young relatives and sends a youngish governess in without warning her about the circumstances, but you still go “oh, what a charming chap! I’m sure he had his reasons!”)

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It is basically impossible to dislike a pipe smoker

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Without spoiling it too much (although light spoilers ahead), the ending was the sort of ending which would have very much appealed to our teenage, rebellious selves and which frustrates our old, security-concerned selves. This was your chance, kid! But also: yeah! Stick it to the man!

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We’re so torn…

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What we learned: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. But also don’t let your own stubbornness deprive you of a chance to make a better life for yourself. Man, we’re confused on this one…

Next time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

#209 Victim

Watched: November 28 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Anthony Nicholls, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Derren Nesbitt, John Barrie

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Jack Barrett (McEnery) is on the run from the cops and desperately tries to contact several friends for help, all of whom turn him down and sends him on his way. When the police finally catches up with him, we learn that he is a victim of blackmail and Detective Inspector Harris (Barrie) correctly deduces the reason: Barrett is gay.

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It’s a lose/lose situation. He’s going to jail both for who he is and what he’s been forced to do to conceal that fact.

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When Barrett kills himself in his jail cell, one of the people who turned him away feels guilty. Successful barrister Melville Farr (Bogarde), a once close friend of the dead man (some might say too close), decides to find out the truth behind Barrett’s indirect murder and bring his blackmailer to justice.

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The unknown extortionist was a subtle man, gently blending into his surroundings, and did not in any way come across as the creepiest creep that ever creeped.

 

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There is just one problem. Farr is a respected member of society with a successful career and a lovely wife, Laura (Syms), both of which he stands to lose if he pursues his hunt. This does not deter him, and his investigation makes him vulnerable to scrutiny from a society in which homosexuality is not only frowned upon but illegal.

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Laura, for one, is not impressed by her husband’s indiscretions. She was under the impression that this was just a phase he went through in college (no, seriously, she really thought so).

 

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Victim really took us by surprise, as we were not familiar with it before it was added to the list. A movie which explores homosexuality and demonizes the society which condemns them rather than the gay men themselves? From 1961? We were very pleasantly surprised indeed!

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Granted, the gay (bisexual?) hero is married to a woman, and has apparently never acted on his homosexual urges, but it’s a start…

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It’s in many ways a very quiet movie, with little score, but it still packs a punch. We liked the Detective Inspector who seemed very sympathetic to the blackmail victims’ plight, all the people giving speeches about the ill-treatment of homosexuals and the fact that everyone treated Barrett’s suicide as a murder. It’s sad, outrageous and extremely engaging, and it must have been very controversial upon its release six years before homosexuality was legalized in Britain. And it’s definitely still worth seeing.

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Also, Patterson, Farr’s assistant (?), is our new hero

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What we learned: It’s incredible to think that people can be considered criminals because of who they are as opposed to what they do… And it’s even more incredible to think that this hasn’t changed – only the groups targeted have (and not even that in a lot of places).

Next time: West Side Story (1961)

#206 The Guns of Navarone

Watched: November 4 2018

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, Richard Harris

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 38min

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In 1943, British soldiers are stranded on the Greek island of Kheros, about to be blitzed by Germany but unable to leave due to the Axis controlled guns (as in big, massive cannons, not just a couple of revolvers, mind you) on the nearby island of Navarone. As no bombing missions have been successful, the British assemble a commando unit to infiltrate the island and take out the guns.

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“We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves, drink up, me hearties, yo-ho!”

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The unit is a team of “pirates and cutthroats;” Major Roy Franklin (Quayle) Captain Keith Mallory (Peck), Corporal John Miller (Niven), Colonel Andrea Stavros (Quinn), “Butcher” Brown (Baker), and Spyros Pappadimos (Darren). Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to climb an unclimbable cliff to sabotage the guns.

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“I’m scared of heights…” “I think I left the stove on.” “Whose fucking brilliant idea was this, anyway???” “Tell my mum I love her.”

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The team is gathered, plans laid and events put in motion. They’re a ruthless but charming bunch, and they set out on their hazardous journey where they encounter storms, Germans, trust issues, dangerous climbs in awful conditions, injuries, capture, torture and romance.

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Among their many perils: armed women with minds of their own!

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The Guns of Navarone is an action packed movie about manly men doing manly things. We loved the long sequences without dialogue and the (often lack of) score. Among our favourite scenes were the storm with the subsequent shipwreck and climb, and the incredibly tense ending when we were waiting for the booby trap to be triggered. We were quite literally on the edge of our seats.

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We imagine it was a sensation not unlike being held at gunpoint, but as we lead very sheltered lives this is really just guesswork

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The tension is oftentimes palpable and this is a very entertaining war epic, not unlike The Bridge on the River Kwai. So if you’re looking for a WWII double feature and you have several hours to spare, the two might make an excellent combo. Just be sure to wrap up warm and bring a snack.

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Alternatively, combine it with Mamma Mia for a Greek Wedding extravaganza!

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What we learned: Sometimes, you need a team of pirates and cutthroats. Also, we need to step up our rope-climbing game. Who knew that dreaded P.E. staple could have real world applications?

Next time: The Hustler (1961)

#204 A Taste of Honey

Watched: October 30 2018

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Murray Melvin, Robert Stephens, Paul Danquah

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Jo (Tushingham) is an artistic sixteen-year old girl who’s neglected by her mother Helen (Bryan) and tired of the way her life is going. Following the girl’s short romance with black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), Jo is kicked out from her home when her mother marries a disaster of a man, Peter (Stephens).

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Strangely, it wasn’t the affair that dissuaded Peter from taking her on as his new daughter. It was her resting-weird-face which freaked him out.

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Jo moves out, gets a flat and a job in a shoe shop, as well as a new gay best friend in Geoff (Melvin). In short, she’s pretty much living the outcast girl’s dream. There’s one problem though – her romance with Jimmy left her pregnant.

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No inexperienced teenager would have stood a chance with this guy…

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Like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Taste of Honey was familiar to the extremely sophisticated Sister the Oldest from her literature studies, but only in writing. The film version of Shelagh Delaney’s play was no disappointment and we both enjoyed it a lot.

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On the question of favourite character we’re torn between both these two

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We can imagine that this one would have been at least a tiny bit controversial upon release with its depictions of sexuality (both young girls and homosexuals should keep that to themselves, thank-you-very-much!), interracial relationships and horrible parenting.

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Helen may look caring and worried, but only as long as Jo’s needs don’t interfere  with her own

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Despite the somewhat bleak subject matter, A Taste of Honey is not as depressing as it could easily have become. The dialogue is funny and witty, and the characters are interesting – especially the women and Geoff.

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Peter’s just your run-of-the-mill misogynist bastard though

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We loved Jo – she’s awkward, insolent, insecure, independent, stubborn, sharp and fabulous, partly thanks to Tushingham’s performance. This movie is a great little slice of kitchen sink drama with a fantastic cast and a strange but interesting peep show scene set in Blackpool. Not sure why we point that out that in particular, but it seemed worth mentioning. Definitely recommended.

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What we learned: Life doesn’t always go the way you plan it. And sometimes you make the same mistakes as your mother.

Next time: Lola (1961)

#202 Village of the Damned

Watched: September 21 2018

Director: Wolf Rilla

Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn, Laurence Naismith, Martin Stephens

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 17min

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In a small British town, all the residents (and animals) simultaneously pass out one day. They wake up a few hours later, unharmed, but later find that all the fertile women in the village are pregnant. Which obviously leads to some uncomfortable questions and suspicions.

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Questions such as who was the sexy alien adonis who managed to impregnante a dozen women within the space of an hour? And what sort of pills was he on to keep it up?

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The children are born 5 months later (which hospital show-fans everywhere know is waaay too early), and they all have white blond hair and intense eyes. Among the new parents are Anthea (Shelley) and Gordon Zellaby (Sanders). The latter is a professor who enjoys a good relationship with British Intelligence, and he takes on the task of observing and possibly educating the strange children.

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As you can tell from his body language, he florishes in his new role as teacher and mentor for a bunch of creepy kids.

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The children develop quickly, and are supersmart and polite, which in itself is a warning sign for anyone who’s ever encountered an actual child. In addition, they seem to have a hive mind and powers of telepathy. If anyone from the village poses any sort of threat to them, they soon become suicidal and the threat is eliminated. But what is their purpose? And will humanity survive their coming?

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Ain’t nothing a rope and a gas mask can’t fix!

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Village of the Damned is such a classic horror movie we will just go ahead and assume that everyone has seen it. We love the final scene in which the kids tear apart Gordon’s mental wall, the chilling, creepy children themselves, and the unsettling atmosphere. The kids, and especially David Zellaby (Stephens), are calm, rational and emotionless, and very disquieting. Their reactions to any threat are relentless and brutal which works great coming from adorable little kids.

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By “adorable” we mean “ominous-as-fuck!”

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With Halloween coming up, you could do a lot worse – and it’s short enough to fit neatly into any sort of marathon you may be planning. Also, perfect low budget costume idea for those of you with children of your own! Just prepare yourself to be terrified of them.

What we learned: We’re definitely never having children. Never.

Next time: Zazie dans le Métro (1960)

#200 The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film

Watched: September 22 2018

Director: Richard Lester, Peter Sellers

Starring: Richard Lester, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Dick Bentley and a bunch of others, all uncredited

Year: 1960

Runtime: 11 min

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Hooray! We’ve reached number 200 on the list! 20% done! 200+ blog entries! And many, many hours spent in front of the TV! Tonight, we shall toast with bubbles and celebrate, but not before bringing you another very short film review of a very short film.

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Skål!

The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film is a series of strange and absurd slapstick comedy skits shot in the English country side. The title is almost longer than the film itself, and there’s very little we can say about it other than that it was amusing and reminded us a bit of Monty Python, so we would not be surprised if this was an inspiration for the comedy group. Which, if we’d bother looking it up, we’re sure we’d find was true.

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It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite gag, but this one is up there

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You can watch the whole thing here, and we recommend that you do so.

What we learned: Not a whole lot, really. Perhaps that once you shoot something, you own it..? Or don’t go towards someone beckoning you if they’re wearing boxing gloves..?

Next time: The Virgin Spring/Jungfrukällan (1960)

#181 Sapphire

Watched: June 28 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Nigel Patrick, Michael Craig, Yvonne Mitchell, Paul Massie, Bernard Miles, Earl Cameron, Olga Lindo

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 32min

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A young woman is found murdered in Hampstead Heath with nothing to identify her but a monogrammed handkerchief. Investigators Hazard (Patrick) and Learoyd (Craig) identify her as Sapphire Robbins and start trying to find the truth behind her death.

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“Fill up on pipe tobacco! We shall get to the bottom of this!”

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They track down her devastated boyfriend, David Harris (Massie), and her big brother Dr Robbins (Cameron), but surprises keep coming. First off, the autopsy reveals that Sapphire was pregnant at the time of her death, and the investigators are then baffled when her brother comes in as he is black and Sapphire appeared to be white.

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“…and you’re absolutely sure none of you were adopted? And that you’re not using the word ‘brother’ in a wider sense..?”

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These new revelations lead to an investigation which encounters racism and prejudice, both from the white and black communities and even from within as not all investigators manage to stay neutral. But was her ethnic background motivation for murder? And if so, who was enraged enough by her “transition” from black to white to murder the young girl?

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Look at this happy family she was about to marry into! There’s no way anyone in this blissful household would ever kill anyone.

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We love a good murder mystery, and we love it even more when it deals with real political and social issues. Sapphire may be from 1959 and deal with racism and prejudice in the wake of the first waves of Commonwealth immigration in Britain, but there are parallels to be drawn to recent debates considering Brexit.

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We’re sure there are lots of idiots out there who would love it if all non-whites had stayed in their own clubs like this one…

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We were also reminded of Sarah Jane although her and Sapphire’s stories are different and so are their societies. A great mystery movie with real social and political commentary, we can definitely recommend this.

What we learned: School teachers are very respectable and a bit above the rest. Thank you! Also, racism sucks and we need to stop this shit already!

Next time: Some Like it Hot (1959)