Tag Archives: Donald Pleasence

Hell is a City (1960) or livewithfilm gets down and dirty in Manchester…

15 Sep

With factory chimneys emerging through an oppressive fog, Hell is a City creates an unashamedly grim vision of existence in the metropolis. Through a post-murder man hunt, Manchester, and by extension 1960s urban life as a whole, is shown to be a corrupting influence that brings misery into the home. With the angry young men of the British New Wave casting the camera onto the kitchen sink in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the very same year, Val Guest’s film similarly seeks out the banal and ordinary. Yet combined with a dark streak of expressionist noir, Hell is a City remains an intriguing crime flick.

Expecting that recently escaped robber Don Starling (John Crawford) will return for the unclaimed treasure of a forgotten heist, weary police inspector Harry Matineau (Stanley Baker) dedicates his days to hunting him down in the Manchester streets. Once Starling and a gang of thieves steal money from bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Halloween’sDonald Pleasence, here hunting down cash rather than psychopaths) and kill his assistant, Matineau is hot on his heels.

While noir crime films could never be called glamorous, Hell is a City is a remarkably unsentimental vision of life. Surrounding an intriguing but rarely ground-breaking crime caper, the glimpses of life remain a powerful image of a population at odds with itself and, namely, the police establishment. Martineau’s embittered wife laments the lonely existence she faces while her obsessive husband hunts down murderers; depressed divorcees flirt longingly with married men; workers gaze despairingly into the bottom of their pint glasses; police are despised for their corruption and brutality; and criminals viciously assault the public and, in one moment, a disabled youngster. Even though this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, ultimately this context remains Hell is a City’s most compelling element and is neatly diluted with occasional, if clichéd, thrills from the criminal underworld.

Uniting the themes of the film, the final act is undoubtedly the most successful. Earlier sections at times sag under excessive plot exposition or a slightly bizarre, if necessary, moorland gambling set-piece. The closing sequence remains visually striking and fast paced, combining a rooftop gun battle with a soul searching lament. In a superb move that suits the banal beauty of the preceding 90 minutes, this is enacted as a marital argument in a living room and avoids all possible conceit. Hardly a celebration of the ordinary, the film wallows in this gritty normality. Following Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Hell is a City is the hardworking, fast talking Monday afternoon.

Phenomena (1985) or livewithfilm takes in the company of a razor wielding chimp…

29 May

Quickly becoming the livewithfilm-does-Italian-horror-megamix, this blogger once again lets its head droop in recognition of what it has become. Yes variety is the spice of life, but once Dario Argento’s bug controlling, monkey nightmare had risen into view, there was little livewithfilm could do but indulge itself once more. Argento’s films have been a revelation for livewithfilm. Initially picking up Bird With the Crystal Plumage on a whim, the auteur has swiftly become a favourite of this blogger. How far we’ve come. What started off as nuanced giallo suspense has reached its natural conclusion in man-eating-insect-body-horror. What a journey it’s been!

Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is finding it hard to settle into her new boarding school. Her sleepwalking and vivid nightmares are made far more intense by the presence of a prowling serial killer. Only the kindly etymologist (Donald Pleasence) believes Jennifer when she claims that she can use telekinesis to communicate with insects. But when Jennifer is led to the headless corpse of her recently deceased room-mate, she decides to hunt for the murderer, bugs in tow.

Before we go any further, livewithfilm must acknowledge that the presence of Jennifer Connelly in Phenomena, one year before she undertook the greatest work of her career in Labyrinth (1986), was slightly jarring. Nevertheless, Argento’s film had its own, far nastier goblins to hurl at the screen. The director’s grisly touch is all over Phenomena as heads fly from shoulders and scalpels carve up victims. While arguably Argento’s finest creation of psychological threat was envisaged in the pulsating pupils of Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971), Phenomena relished every opportunity to make skin crawl. Using sublimely paced shocks, the gore remains (aptly) fresh and uncomfortable thanks to its initial scarcity. Building up to an indescribably frenetic final act of bloodshed, livewithfilm was ultimately left reeling by Phenomena. The intriguing premise was sweetly delivered by Argento in a stylishly entertaining fashion. This blogger was eventually left with a single message ringing in its ears: never mess with a chimp with a penchant for revenge.