Always (1989)

2014 #92
Steven Spielberg | 117 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

AlwaysReleased the same year as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and followed by Hook, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in his filmography, Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1943 fantasy drama A Guy Named Joe is sandwiched between several all-time classics (and Hook), which probably explains why it’s been widely overlooked and, consequently, underrated.

Switching WW2 bombers for ’80s aerial firefighters, cocky pilot Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) is killed in the line of duty, leaving behind girlfriend Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter, with a character name retained from the ’40s). Greeted in the afterlife by an angelic Audrey Hepburn (in her final role), Pete is sent back to Earth to be a spiritual guide to trainee pilot Ted (Brad Johnson). But when Ted runs into Dorinda, and romantic feelings begin to blossom between them, Pete has to decide if he can let go.

There’s a “something for everyone” feel to parts of Always: a soppy romantic storyline, a fantasy twist, hefty doses of humour, and some thrilling action sequences in the firefighting. There’s some wonderful aerial photography and special effects — not what the film’s about, but they’re excellent nonetheless. I guess that’s what you get when a director and crew who specialise in effects-filled blockbusters make a fantasy rom-com. Of course, Spielberg’s renowned sentimentality means he’s equally well suited to a sweet romantic movie. Three's a crowdEven with the undercurrents of grief and the difficulties of moving on, this is fundamentally a light, amiable romance.

An enjoyable little movie, Always was never destined to sit among the highlights of a career as exceptional as Spielberg’s. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant aside from both his grander and heavier works.

4 out of 5

Always is on ITV tonight at 11:30pm.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

2011 #26
Blake Edwards | 110 mins | TV (HD) | PG

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany’s is a stonkingly famous film — it’s the one most of the famous images in the cult of Audrey Hepburn come from — this despite the fact that, as one IMDb review puts it, the plot makes it sound like “a gritty, vulgar film”.

It originates from a Truman Capote novel. That makes “gritty” and “vulgar” less startling adjectives. This was the early ’60s, though, so George Axelrod’s adaptation sanitises things for a mainstream US cinema audience. You can’t help but wonder if there’s a more faithful remake to be done, but how would that sit with those who idolise Hepburn’s take on Holly Golightly? Not well, I suspect. But faithfulness aside, in the hands of director Blake Edwards any grittiness disappears in a wave of pastel-coloured humour and frivolity.

And a happy ending. Not that the novel’s ending is unhappy per se, but this version is certainly more Hollywoodised. Some hate it, and I can see their point, but as the whole film has been appropriately smoothed in parts from the original, the modified finale doesn’t sit too badly. Casting Mickey Rooney as an OTT Japanese character really was a bad idea though. Another strike against the film could be that it originated the song Moon River, which I hate; Tiffany's kissbut it works here, especially when sung plainly by Hepburn.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s isn’t Capote’s novel, but it is fun, and it’s plain to see why men and women alike have fallen for Hepburn’s Golightly. A more sordid adaptation of the book might be interesting, but that doesn’t negate the unique qualities of the film.

5 out of 5

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on Film4 tomorrow, Tuesday 28th October 2014, at 11am.

Audrey Hepburn, er, ‘Week’…

Audrey HepburnFollowing Valentine’s Day — yes, I’m talking about way back in February — Channel 4 attempted a week of Audrey Hepburn films. Except for some reason they didn’t schedule one for Monday. And then Friday’s, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was replaced by delayed horse racing. And for my part, I forgot to record Thursday’s film, Funny Face.

So following Valentine’s Day, Channel 4 showed a pair of Audrey Hepburn films (that I saw). One of those I posted a while ago — it was Roman Holiday — but I’ve caught Funny Face since, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the racing-motivated repeat, so I’ve actually wound up with three Hepburn reviews to post. None are particularly long, so here they all are:

Then there’s Humphrey Bogart… At least his character is pretending to fall for [Hepburn] in order to get her away from his wastrel brother. But it actually feels very mean-spirited — Sabrina is likeable enough that we dislike his machinations. Which means that there’s no truly supportable lead character. Read more…

a surfeit of excellent humour, choreography, cinematography, light satire of both the fashion world and the intellectual world… Indeed, dishing out said satire in both directions means the film never comes across as either snobbish or anti-intellectual… it takes fair jibes at both equally. Read more…

this version is certainly more Hollywoodised. Some hate it, and I can see their point… but it is fun, and it’s plain to see why men and women alike have fallen for Hepburn’s Golightly. A more sordid adaptation of the book might be interesting, but that doesn’t negate the unique qualities of the film. Read more…

Pair this lot up with Roman Holiday and you can see plenty of connections, overlaps, similarities and juxtapositions between Hepburn’s roles… few of which I’ve drawn out in this set of reviews. Plenty of actors play the same character with tiny variations in multiple films; while Hepburn’s parts may not be poles apart (especially if you take Tiffany’s out of the equation), I’m sure the dedicated might find some interesting points to observe.

Roman Holiday (1953)

2011 #21
William Wyler | 113 mins | TV | U

Roman HolidayRoman Holiday is the kind of film where its list of achievements don’t quite precede it — Best Picture nominee (it lost to From Here to Eternity), places on the IMDb Top 250, They Shoot Pictures’ 1000 Greatest and one of the AFI’s 100 Years lists — but something else certainly does: this is the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star.

So let’s start with Hepburn. Here she plays a European Princess on a world tour, for various diplomatic reasons, which is coming to an end in Rome. She’s not happy, running off to see the real Rome, and sending her entourage into a quandary as they try to cover up her disappearance. It’s a role that could easily be intensely irritating — the spoilt little brat who doesn’t know how good she has it / with no sense of responsibility — but Hepburn seems to be effortlessly likeable, and it’s easy to sympathise with the idea that seeing the sights and having fun in an iconic city is a lot better than meeting a bunch of stuffy old men.

Through various contrivances, the Princess winds up in the flat of journalist Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck. He initially doesn’t realise who she is; he’s helping her out by giving her a bed for the night — the fact he’s Fundamentally Kind will become important in a bit. The next day, when he sleeps in and misses his scheduled interview with the Princess, he twigs who she is and sets about a plan to secretly get a world-exclusive, roping in photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) to get candid shots of Princess and ice creamthe Princess as they take her on a day messing about in Rome.

So, essentially, Joe is conning her. He doesn’t let on that he knows the truth, keeping up the act that he thinks she’s a school runaway after a good time; he tricks her into it so he can get a story that will undoubtedly bring some degree of shame, shock and/or scandal to her family and/or country. His moral underhandedness occasionally undercuts the movie: they seem to be allowing her to finally do the things she wants to do, but all along he’s memorising quotes and Irving is secretly snapping away. It all works out in the end — realistically, and therefore, perhaps, surprisingly — but on the way there…

On the other hand — and without wishing to give too much away — morals do get the better of Joe and Irving, and they do often seem quite genuine in the way they help the Princess do what she wants, and they have a good time too (and not because they stand to be rolling in it if they pull it off); and, naturally, Joe ends up in love with the Princess and all that, and it does all work out in the end… It’s a matter of interpretation, perhaps. If you choose to focus on Joe’s ultimate aim — selling the story — then most of the film is a nasty trick. Princess and (Eddie) AlbertIf, instead, you remember that he’s Fundamentally Kind, it might be less troubling that he has a secret plan most of the time.

Morals aside, the cast work well together. The film is often painted as a Peck/Hepburn two-hander — easier to sell the romance angle that way — and I’m sure it would work as that, but Albert’s in it enough to qualify for attention, and is fairly essential to what makes it quite so likeable in my opinion. He and Peck carry much of the humour while Hepburn charms as a sweet girl finally allowed to be herself.

The bulk of the narrative is structured as a series of set pieces and individual sequences/moments, taking the cast from situation to situation: her scooter riding, cafe foolery, barge dancing/fight, and so on. In some ways, it’s just taking the audience along with them — there’s the Princess’ entourage trying to recover her and Joe formulating his story, but it’s more about the fun the characters are having doing whatever than the way it contributes to either of these plots. Wyler puts the genuine Rome locations to good use — and when you’re the first Hollywood film to be shot entirely in Italy, why wouldn’t you? It’s a cliché I know, but the city is as much a character as any of the cast.
Princess and stuffy old man
In spite of some characters’ moral underhandedness, Roman Holiday emerges as a very likeable film about, essentially, having a lovely time on holiday somewhere nice. Hepburn may not be as obviously iconic here as she would become thanks to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I think it’s clear to see how she would become a beloved star.

5 out of 5

Roman Holiday is on More4 today, Thursday 23rd April 2015, at 10:50am.