#247 Topkapi

Watched: December 17 2019

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley, Jess Hahn, Gilles Ségal, Akim Tamiroff

Year: 1964

Runtime: 2h 0min

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Elizabeth Lipp (Mercouri) has an obsession. Emeralds. And no emeralds are greater than the ones adorning the dagger of Sultan Mahmud I, currently on display at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. But how will she get her hands on it?

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“No locks or security measures are a match for my intense stare.”

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To execute a heist, she recruits ex-boyfriend Walter Harper (Schell) who in turn enlists a motley crew of amateurs. There’s mechanical magician and toy maker Cedric Page (Morley), mute acrobat Giulio (Ségal), and muscle man Hans (Hahn). Together, they will switch out the dagger with a replica and get away before anyone knows a robbery has even taken place. Or so they plan.

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Before any heist can be done, one needs to find one’s James Bond-looking ex to sort out the details.

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In order to get the weapons they need over the border from Greece, they pay small-time con man and designated “schmo” Arthur Simpson (Ustinov) to take a car across the border. However, when customs find the guns, the hapless Arthur is engaged as a spy for the Turkish government who fear an assassination is about to take place.

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Few things scream “International Man of Mystery” like this guy

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Arthur successfully infiltrates the group and becomes an integral part of their plan. But will they succeed? Will Arthur betray them? Will their cook Gerven (Tamiroff) ever shake his alcoholism? These are the questions which will haunt you. Until you watch the excellent Topkapi, that is.

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“Subtlety is my forte”

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This one had us hooked from the beginning. We loved the colourful, strange and magical opening and Elizabeth’s monologue to the camera. The kaleidoscopic filter added to the surreal feeling, and we were in for the ride!

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Much like Arthur himself!

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The heist was very exciting, and we also loved the colours, the humour, the suspense, Gerven the drunken cook, the sunglasses-wearing Turkish agent-dude, and the homoerotic oily wrestling. Not to mention 1000-films favourite Peter Ustinov. The man won Oscars and a knighthood, and has even been quoted on Criminal Minds! Which is among the greatest honours a person can receive.

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Pictured: his greatest achievement

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The only drawback was actually the person who promised to be the most intriguing – miss Elizabeth Lipp herself. Sure, the idea for the robbery was hers, and she opened the movie very strongly, but after recruiting her ex to plan the heist, she basically did nothing. Walter was the one to come up with the plan and get the others involved. Her role after the start was just to make out with all the men in turn and seduce a poor lighthouse keeper. And she had so much potential. Although she did redeem herself a bit in the end. All in all, another great heist movie from Jules Dassin.

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This scene alone is worth the investment of two hours of your life

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What we learned: Plan meticulously, execute cleanly, don’t get caught before, during or after.

Next time: Zulu (1964)

#239 Goldfinger

Watched: July 5 2019

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Bernard Lee, Harold Sakata, Lois Maxwell, Shirley Eaton

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 50min

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007 (Connery) is back, rising from the water with a bird strapped to his head as secret agents are wont to do. Under his wet suit an immaculate dinner jacket, and he is ready for a night of gambling and spying.

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“Carnation in place, now to complete the look with my duck hat!”

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The target, Auric Goldfinger (Fröbe), is cheating at cards so Bond takes one for the team and seduces his accomplice Jill (Eaton) to ruin Goldfinger’s winning streak.

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Anyone who’s ever been flirted with by a man in a powder blue playsuit knows that the success of this tactic is a clear testament to the magnetism of Sean Connery

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After a night of shenanigans, and a possible concussion, Bond awakens to find Jill dead, covered in gold paint. But who could have commited this golden crime? The prime suspect is none other than Gold Goldlimb himself.

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“However did you jump to that conclusion..?”

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On his quest to stop Goldfinger and his nefarious plans, Bond also encounters Pussy Galore (Blackman), his nemesis’ flying ace and all round brilliant lady.

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She came by her name honestly

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We enjoyed this a lot more than From Russia with Love, partly because no teenagers were forced to spend a night pleasing Bond in order to get married in Goldfinger. In fact, the women in this one have a lot more agency than those in its predecessor.

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We were huge fans of the ridiculously elaborate murder machines in Goldfinger’s possession. Someone actually had to construct this thing!

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We loved Pussy Galore, the title sequence, Oddjob, the gadgets, the golf game, the car chases, the pilots and of course the antagonist’s convoluted plot and his obsession with gold. And sure, we enjoy James Bond himself too, and this is definitely one of our favourite Bond movies. Although we would NEVER fall for a man in a baby blue playsuit. Never.

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You know a Delta Nu would never sleep with a man in a romper! We just liked to watch him swim around with a duck on his head.

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What we learned: Austin Powers makes a lot more sense after a few early Bond films.

Next time: Onibaba (1964)

#225 From Russia With Love

Watched: February 16 2019

Director: Terence Young

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 55min

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James Bond is back indeed. And boy is he sexist!

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Sexist? Who? Me? Come on now, little lady. Give us a smile.

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SPECTRE are angry with Bond (Connery) for doing his job and killing Dr No in the last movie. Rude. They decide to take revenge by killing him, but first seducing him to get some sort of plot device. So they send Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi) to do the latter and Donald Grant (Shaw) to do the former.

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One is more successful than the other

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Of course, Romanova instantly falls for the irresistable (and slightly rapey) Bond, and she betrays everything she has been brought up to believe in for that sweet, sweet D. Grant is not so lucky.

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Given five more minutes, Bond would have bedded this guy as well. The signals are clearly there.

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Plots thicken, gadgets are used, people are betrayed and double-crossed, enemies are slain and cats are cuddled. It’s everything you’d expect from a James Bond movie, but not everything has aged well.

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We’re not just talking about the incessant smoking, although you’d have a hard time getting that approved now

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Let’s start with the things we liked about this movie. We loved the cat, Klebb (and her glasses), all the gadgets, Miss Moneypenny (who doesn’t love her?), the furniture, the helicopter shoot-out and the action in general. All of that was amazing and fun.

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Pictured: our new style icon

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However, there are so many things that are questionable. From Romanova’s complete surrender after one encounter with the charsmatic spy, to the (completely gratuitous) gypsy girls “gifted” him to have his way with, the portrayal of women reads like an immature boy’s fantasy. One who’s never met an actual real-life woman and certainly never had a relationship.

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“Let’s take you girls on a test drive to decide who is worthy of marrying the prince”

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Now, we expect a bit of casual sexism in our old-timey action movies, and we’ve seen the Bond films years ago so we should have remembered, but this was just ridiculous. It’s so over the top that it almost seems like a parody, but a parody of itself. A very strange viewing experience indeed. And while it isn’t a movie we particularly liked, it is certainly an interesting one to view in 2019. In a strange way we’re actually looking forward to the rest.

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And this is how we’ll drink our wine watching them.

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What we learned: Not all cool things from the 60s have aged particularly well…

Next time: Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

#224 Charade

Watched: February 16 2019

Director: Stanley Donen

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 53min

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Reggie Lampert (Hepburn) is on a skiing holiday when she decides she wants a divorce from her husband. She is spared the paper work when he turns up dead, leaving her nothing but a letter and a stripped apartment.

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Reggie had the foresight to pack her couture funeral outfit so at least she was appropriately dressed for the occasion

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Peter Joshua (Grant), a charmer she met on holiday, tries to help her adjust to her newly widowed life. Meanwhile, CIA agent Hamilton Bartholomew (Matthau) warns her that she is in danger from her late husband’s WWII buddies who thinks she’s concealing a fortune they stole during the war.

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We’re torn on the villains. On the one hand, they kidnap an innocent kid to force Reggie’s cooperation, which is a serious faux pas. On the other hand however, they actually treat him quite well and keep their word. So, all in all, about a 5 on the villain-scale.

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This is how you do a spy thriller/screwball comedy! There’s twist after twist after twist, and the movie is dripping with the charm of the lead actors and the fantastic supporting actors.

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They have so much chemistry we didn’t even consider the dodgy 25 year age gap

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Charade is one of those movies you just have to see for yourself and no review can do it justice. Suffice to say, we loved the characters, the intro, the banter, the funeral, all the eating and the costumes by Givenchy.

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And the hilarious shower scene.

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It’s just a must-watch. So good, and a world away from the misogynistic and outdated world of James Bond, which we’ll get to next time…

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“I’ve had a chat with Ian Fleming, and he thinks you should sleep with me. Since I’m an agent and you’re an attractive female, it’s your duty.”

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What we learned: When your murdered husband inevitably turns out to be a secret agent, be careful who you trust.

Next time: From Russia With Love (1963)

#218 The Manchurian Candidate

Watched: January 22 2019

Director: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 06min

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Korea, 1952. A patrol is ambushed and taken prisoner. When they return to the US, generally despised Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), who’s cursed with a busybody mother (Lansbury) and a fanatic senator stepfather (Gregory), is awarded Medal of Honor. The medal is given to him based on the testimony of his fellow soldiers, who cannot say enough good things about him, although they are unsure why.

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“We just really respect the way he used to break up our parties with local prostitutes”

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Meanwhile, a few members of the same patrol, including Major Bennett Marco (Sinatra), are troubled by nightmares in which the celebrated Sergeant kills two fellow soldiers on the command of a bunch of ladies talking about agriculture and occasionally morphing into communist leaders.

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“Welcome to my talk on how to make blossoming gardens and sleeper agents. I’m very happy to see so many morphing faces here today.”

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Marco’s fears are dismissed by the military, and he is eventually placed on sick leave. He meets Eugenie (Leigh) on a train, and she becomes his support system as he tries to make sense of what actually happened in Korea.

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She is witty and fantastic, but also insanely reckless. Who talks to an unknown man who’s clearly having some sort of breakdown, and after three minutes decides to give him all her personal details?

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Marco’s suspicion is that Shaw, and the rest of the patrol, are all brainwashed and returned to the USA to carry out some sort of plot. But what exactly is Shaw’s mission? Who is his local handler? And will they have any chance of stopping whatever it is in time?

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And will Shaw ever get out from under the thumb of his controlling mother?

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The Manchurian Candidate is a tense and compelling thriller which keeps going off in unexpected directions. We loved the horticulture talk the soldiers imagined, and the cross cutting between their perception of it and the reality.

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Pictured: The Annual Women’s Society Lecture on Communist Leaders

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We also loved how the different soldiers saw this scene differently – the black soldier seeing a room filled with black women, etc. Now, the plot is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the aftermath of McCarthyism, we’re sure it hit all the right buttons.

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Right down to the fear-mongering senator

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We found Frank Sinatra to be a surprisingly good actor, and we loved Angela Lansbury: her character could have snatched the “World’s Greatest Mother” trophy right from the cold, dead hands of Mrs Bates

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Surprisingly good actor or not, Frank Sinatra’s card playing skills were clearly below par

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We’ll never play solitaire again! Or go to gardening meetings.

What we learned: Beware the red queen! Also, what’s with all these guys meeting cool, interesting, witty women on trains?

Next time: Vivre sa Vie (1962)

#178 North by Northwest

Watched: April 8 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 16min

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Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) is a busy adman with a slightly exasperated secretary and a fabulous mother (Landis). During lunch, he is mistaken for a Mr Kaplan by a couple of thugs and whisked away on an adventure.

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“We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

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Despite Thornhill’s insistence that they have the wrong guy, baddie Phillip Vandamm (Mason) is convinced his captive is lying. His suspicions are confirmed several times as Thornhill starts investigating and finds himself in the mysterious Kaplan’s hotel room, accepting his laundry and answering his phone. Idiot.

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“What sort of flying monkey is this???”

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Things go from bad to worse when Thornhill becomes a prime suspect for murder and must go on the lam. He ends up sneaking on to the “Twentieth Century” where he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint). She helps him elude capture, but now our hero is hunted by both criminals and law enforcement. What a pickle!

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Luckily, Thornhill is a master of disguise!

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North by Northwest is definitely among the funnier Hitchcock movies. The whole thing plays like a farce, and Cary Grant’s amazing face, sass and sarcasm keep the audience laughing throughout. We also loved his darling mother.

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“I’m a delight!”

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As with several Hitchcock films (and others), the opening credits by Saul Bass are fantastic, and the movie is suspenseful and exciting from beginning to end. Love this!

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So cool!

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What we learned: If you’re the victim of mistaken identity, try not to pretend to be that person… Also, high heels and rock climbing is a bad match. There goes our weekend plans.

Next time: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)