June 22nd, 2020

Old Movies

We keep the TV tuned to Talking Pictures most of the time. We said we were doing it for my mother but actually we do it for me. I'm the one who likes to watch old movies. My mother has absolutely no idea what she's looking at.

"What are those people doing?"

"They're sitting an exam to be vets."

"Oh."

It was a comedy starring Leslie Phillips- who has never been my cup of tea. If a movie has Leslie Phillips in it I know it's going to be full of the saucy, sniggery, pre-permissive jokes that make me feel a little queasy.

I have a particular fondness for the films of the 1940s- the decade before I was born- for the Archers, Carol Reed, early David Lean. I caught Anthony Asquith's version of Rattigan's The Winslow Boy the other day; it's terrific.

I rarely watch a movie all the way through. Mostly I see them in chunks. Yesterday I caught substantial chunks of two I rather liked. First up was a highly intelligent heist movie from 1963 starring William Sylvester as a cop who goes under cover to foil a jewel robbery and gets to like his criminal associates better than he likes his colleagues back at the Yard. It's called Off Beat. William Sylvester has some of that early 60s cool that was the making of Sean Connery and Michael Caine. You wonder why his career never took off.

Film history is endlessly fascinating. So much has fallen through the cracks

The second was a programmer called "Whatever Happened to Poor Mickey?" It was made in the early 60s for the contents of someone's piggy bank, has elements of Pinter, A Clockwork Orange and The Twilight Zone- and stars Warren Mitchell as a stage magician with authentic magical powers. For all its creakiness and crumminess it's the sort of thing you don't easily forget. It got slapped with an X certificate when it first came out because of the gang violence and supernatural horror. Talking Pictures rates it PG and puts it out in the afternoon. How attitudes change.

"You don't watch much contemporary stuff" says my son.

And I don't. I wish I did, but I don't. I'm not on a nostalgia trip, though. I absolutely don't want to go back to an age which found Leslie Phillips funny.

Or Norman Wisdom.

(Though I do love viewing footage of London as it was before the developers started turning it into Manhattan)

And then he gives me an alibi. "You're reviewing your life and times," he says.

And I leap at it because it makes it seem like I'm doing something virtuous...