Tag Archives: Richard Attenborough

10 Rillington Place-1971

10 Rillington Place-1971

Director Richard Fleischer

Starring Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, John Hurt

Scott’s Review #1,424

Reviewed March 22, 2024

Grade: A

Richard Fleischer has directed films such as Dr. Doolittle (1967) and Soylent Green (1973) that are remembered better than 10 Rillington Place (1971).

That’s a shame because the film is one that I hadn’t seen nor heard of but is chilling, macabre, and masterful in its bleakness and atmosphere.

It’s also wonderfully acted.

One can’t help but notice the stark similarities to Frenzy, an equally disturbing and great 1972 film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Did this film influence the master of suspense to create that one? Only he knows the answer to that question.

Mostly set in one dreary apartment building in London named 10 Rillington Place it tells the true story of the British serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough), who committed many of his crimes in the tall terraced house, and the miscarriage of justice involving his neighbor, the simple-minded Timothy Evans (John Hurt).

Timothy was used by John as a scapegoat for the murders.

John is a seemingly model citizen but a killer, as the audience witnesses in the first scene. He poses as a kindly doctor who convinces naive women that he can cure whatever might ail them whether it be aches and pains or making a pesky pregnancy go away.

He usually strangles them to death and buries them in a makeshift graveyard in the pretty garden in front of his residence.

The main story in 10 Rillington Place follows John as he cons a pregnant bride (Judy Geeson) struggling financially to utilize his help and medical methods. John’s dutiful and clueless wife, Ethel (Pat Heywood) slowly discovers her husband’s shenanigans but will she fall prey as his next victim?

Of course, Richard Attenborough steals the show as the demented killer with a calm, cool, and collected exterior. As an average-looking Joe type, he can use his trusting appearance to his advantage.

I’d trust him.

Attenborough became an Academy Award-winning director for 1982’s Gandhi so he knows his craft well. He also directed Cry Freedom in 1987 and Chaplin in 1992.

In actor mode, he is phenomenal in the crazed killer role. His greatest skill is his demeanor. Thoughtful and pondering he never plays psycho or nuts. He is careful but that’s part of his creepiness. With every noise, he peers out the window drawing the living room curtain ever so slightly revealing his face.

Hurt and Geeson are terrific as the young couple with the cards stacked against them. They are simply looking for tranquility and the means to raise their child.

Simplicity is a winning formula and most of the film is subdued thanks to Fleischer’s laid-back direction techniques.

The look of 10 Rillington Place is perfection. The colors are muted and faded giving a dank and depressing look. Even a bright red velvet sofa appears dark and dreary.

As Timothy and Beryl agree to lease the top floor flat this will not bode well for them and somehow we can just sense this.

Towards the end of the film, it is almost too much to bear with the knowledge that John strangles a toddler to death and unceremoniously stuffs the child, wrapped in a blanket in a washroom.

Brilliantly, the murders rarely happen onscreen and with none of the principal characters. That’s what’s so haunting about the film and reminds me of Hitchcock’s Frenzy.

Remember the scene where the necktie killer lures a female victim upstairs to her death? There is silence and a shot of the staircase for seemingly an eternity until the killer descends the stairs.

We know what’s happened.

What we don’t see is sometimes much more frightening than what we do see.

The ghastly reveal at the end of 10 Rillington Place that the story is based on real-life events packed a punch since I didn’t have this knowledge going into the film.

Thankfully, 10 Rillington Place (1971) has received its just desserts in terms of praise and achievement in recent years. This proves that great films are like cream and rise to the top…..eventually.

The Sand Pebbles-1966

The Sand Pebbles-1966

Director Robert Wise

Starring Steve McQueen, Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,257

Reviewed May 18, 2022

Grade: A-

The 1950s and 1960s can collectively be defined as the two decades representing the grandiose film epic, which are instantly recognizable cinematic sprawling, lengthy efforts and frequently encompassing a time.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) safely falls into this category especially because it’s a war film and one minute shy of a three-hour extravaganza.

The film was a critical and commercial success at the time of release and received several Academy Award nominations (see more below) but is not remembered as well as one might expect despite being a fantastic watch.

There is something that makes the film fly somewhere under the radar and I’m not sure why that is. It might be that an anti-war message film was not as common as it would become. In 1966 there had only just begun to be a United States movement questioning the government and war in general.

It wasn’t cool or acceptable yet.

Robert Anderson adapted the screenplay from the 1962 novel of the same name by Richard McKenna which I understand is very similar.

Robert Wise, famous for directing the very memorable The Sound of Music just one year prior in 1965 and the legendary West Side Story in 1961 is at the helm resulting in a superior direction, especially in the exterior sequences and the lush, oceanic sequences.

Star, Steve McQueen was at the height of popularity when this film was made which undoubtedly helped get butts in the seats to drool over the blue-eyed actor in his Navy attire.

The Sand Pebbles has a heavier touch and promotes an anti-war viewpoint from its main character. Therefore, it has a good solid message to go with the expected aspects of a war film.

It’s not dissimilar to The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) made nearly a decade earlier.

Not lost on the viewer will be the Asian locales and the parallels with the controversial Vietnam conflict happening at the time.

We go back to 1926 when the USS San Pablo was patrolling the Yangtze River during the clashes between Chiang Kai-shek’s communists and Chinese warlords.

Eight-year veteran machinist Jake Holman (McQueen), new to the self-named “sand pebbles” crew, immediately draws deep suspicion due to his independent streak.

Ordered to protect Americans, including schoolteacher Shirley Eckhart (Candice Bergen), Jake and the gunboat crew are unwittingly drawn into a bitter nationalistic feud that holds grim consequences.

Besides his unforgettable turn in The Getaway in 1972, the role is McQueen’s finest and I’m not the biggest fan of his nor feel he is the greatest actor.

But, in The Sand Pebbles, he has tremendous material to work with and hits all cylinders throughout. The character is rootable and relatable to the audience.

The film also presents a fascinating look at Navy life with the camaraderie and depth of the supporting characters. There is comedy and drama and the additions of Richard Attenborough and Richard Crenna are stellar.

Naturally, Bergen is the romantic love interest for McQueen as Shirley and Jake have fledging feelings for each other.

Though the film ends abruptly there is enough pain, death, and confusion to leave the viewer thinking afterward and that is always an aspect of the film that I champion.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) is an underrated production that simmers beneath some other classics from the same decade but is a terrific watch for many reasons. It has an old-world feel despite being extremely timely representing a forage into the dangerous early 1970s history still to come.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Steve McQueen, Best Supporting Actor-Mako, Best Art Direction-Color, Best Cinematography-Color, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound

Gandhi-1982

Gandhi-1982

Director Richard Attenborough

Starring Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #1,189

Reviewed October 30, 2021

Grade: A

Ben Kingsley delivers an astonishing performance as Mahatma Gandhi,  the steady-handed lawyer who stood up against British rule in India and became an international symbol of nonviolence and peaceful understanding until his tragic assassination in 1948.

Entitled simply Gandhi (1982) the film is directed by Richard Attenborough who has created masculine offerings such as The Great Escape (1963) and The Sand Pebbles (1966) before.

Calmly, the director creates a grandiose epic but one that is thought-provoking and introspective in its humility.

I was incredibly affected by this picture.

As beautiful as the cinematography and other such trimmings are the message is what stands out to me most. One man’s spirit and thirst for fairness and human equality are beyond inspiring decades after the film was made.

Thanks to Kingsley, the biography infuses an infectious channeling of what being a human being is all about and how human decency is the desired goal.

The film belongs to Kingsley. Despite hosting a cast of literally thousands he is the only name worth mentioning. He is that superior.

Attenborough, who teams with screenwriter John Briley presents major events in the life of Mohandas Gandhi (Kingsley). The film starts suddenly in January 1948, when an elderly Gandhi is on his way to an evening prayer service and is shot point-blank in the chest in front of a large number of dumbfounded greeters and admirers.

His state funeral is shown, the procession attended by millions of people from all walks of life, with a radio reporter speaking beautifully about Gandhi’s world-changing life and projects.

The film then returns to decades earlier when Gandhi, a young man, has a violent and racist experience. He vows to dedicate himself to the concept of nonviolent resistance. Initially dismissed, Gandhi was eventually internationally renowned, and his gatherings of passive protest moved India towards independence.

Gandhi has been criticized for its extraordinary length with a running time of three hours and ten minutes. A suggestion is to watch the film in multiple sittings though the best recommended approach would be to see it on the big screen.

Unfortunately, I didn’t but fantasize about the massive sequences and how gorgeous they would appear at the cinema.

The story, acting, production, and pretty much everything else about Gandhi is a ravishing spectacle.

It’s worth its weight to sit back and watch Kingsley completely immerse himself in the role. The actor deservedly won the Best Actor Academy Award and despite his oodles of other film roles is best remembered for this one.

I’m half surprised that it didn’t typecast him since he is so identifiable in the role.

I’d like to mention two aspects that some might not notice as much as others but that is simply astounding. The cinematography of the deserts, towns, and cities of India is plush with detail and accuracy. If one cannot go on a trip to India the next best thing is to watch this film instead. You’ll get a good dose of realism.

South Africa is also featured.

The costumes brilliantly showcase Indian flair and culture so well that I felt that I had been to an interesting country at the time that the film portrayed the events and felt nestled amid the luxurious colors and good taste.

Post-1982, the film genre of the epic exists rarely if ever anymore.

Long gone are the days of brilliance like Gone With the Wind (1939) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) which are truly a delight to simply lay one’s eyes on.

Gandhi deserves to be appreciated as much as those other films despite being released in less than an artistic decade in cinema.

Gandhi (1982) is a wonderfully tragic film and leaves the viewer feeling sad but also inspired to carry the torch picked up by one brave man.

A history lesson it’s also as much a lesson in humanity and the courageous fight that one man fought. Military power is not the way to achieve change in the world.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Richard Attenborough (won), Best Actor-Ben Kingsley (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Sound

The Great Escape-1963

The Great Escape-1963

Director John Sturges

Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,053

Reviewed August 17, 2020

Grade: B

Often heralded as one of the great World War II action films of all time, there is little great about the first half of the interminable two-hour and fifty-three-minute running time.

With enough military silliness to make television’s Hogan’s Heroes seem like high drama, the first half of The Great Escape (1963) would be graded a mediocre C or a C- and that’s being generous.

The final hour is an entirely different matter and when the actual “great escape” is launched the film kicks into high gear. Not only does the action kick off, but the characters become more layered, emotional, and compelling.

There are also killer location shots of Germany and Switzerland occurring at a zooming pace and the comedy soon turns to tragedy.

Why the decision to save all the goodies for the final act instead of dispersing them around is beyond me, but I am glad this film took off as it did.

Directed by John Sturges, known for creating a similarly masculine and muscular offering from 1960, The Magnificent Seven,  he once again is lucky to cast several of Hollywood’s then hot, young stars like Steve McQueen and James Garner, and more relatable character actors like Donald Pleasence and Richard Attenborough who provide the acting grit.

While not on my list of great World War II films (Schindler’s List (1993) gets top honors), the film is recommended for the gutsy and enthralling finale alone.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 nonfiction book of the same name, a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany.

Unsurprisingly, and rather shockingly, the real events are significantly modified from the historical record, depicting a starkly fictionalized version of the escape, including Americans among the escapees.

Let’s discuss both portions, warts and all.

The changes are most irritating and done to make it more “Americanized” and therefore more appealing to mainstream audiences. This manipulation gnawed at me during most of the film since it’s factually incorrect.

To be fair, there is a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the film with a note saying the story is a work of fiction save for the escape portion, but this will inevitably be unnoticed or forgotten by the casual viewer.

Most of the first arc action is spent within the confinement of a massive, high-security, prisoner-of-war camp where the group of men is huddled, having escaped other camps or prisons. You would think the camp would be the equivalent of Alcatraz but besides some barbed wire and not-so-threatening German soldiers with guns they rarely use, it’s not so intimidating.

Nonetheless, shortly upon arrival, the group begins to plot their elaborate, mostly underground escape.

Whoever composed the musical score for the first section was going for a campy, situational comedy-style tone with brassy, patriotic tunes worthy of Gilligan’s Island.

This does nothing to create tension or danger nor do the Nazi soldiers.

The men would be terrifying and rely on torture, but there is none of that to be found. Safe, but trying to be stern, this does not work as the German soldiers are played more like foils than those to be feared.

When the “great escape” is upon us, The Great Escape gets an A-plus for its thrills, action, and emotion.

A harrowing plane ride taken by Robert Hendley (Garner) and Colin Blythe (Pleasence) is juicy with tension and atmosphere. As the duo flies low across the German terrain heading over the Swiss Alps for safety the plane exhibits trouble.

Meanwhile, Hilts (McQueen) steals a motorcycle and traverses the Germany/Switzerland border in a frantic chase scene while the Germans are in hot pursuit.

In a third sequence, other men flee via train in a cat-and-mouse pursuit.

Seventy-six POWs flee the camp and a startling fifty are killed. Twenty-three are returned to the camp and only three successfully escape.

If Sturges had built around the final hour and reduced the silly comedy style, probably attempting a contrasting theme to make the drama more imbalanced, he might have had a masterpiece on hand.

Instead, The Great Escape (1963) is a twofold experience.

A comedy that develops into a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller, but suffers from too much historical inaccuracy to reach the depths of cinematic greatness.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing