Yes, a real deal blockbuster doubleheader this Thursday. So set the remote for the heart of the box and check these babies out:
First, there’s Hidden Fortress (Thur, 11.00, Film4). This Japanese film by master director Akira Kurosawa has a simple premise: A mysterious princess and a famous general are both on the run.Both need to get through enemy lines and back to their allies during a revolution. They are helped by two bumbling peasants who fall for every trick in the book to help them.
Sound familiar? Yes, of course, this is the movie that George Lucas used as a template for Star Wars.
Kurosawa made the 1958 film to shut up his studio who loved his classics such as Rashoman but moaned they didn’t bring in the dosh. Kurosawa threw his hands up and said more or less: “You want yen-spinning entertainment? Here’s one to stop your groaning.”
So, if you must, you get Princess Leia, Han Solo and Obiwan Kenobi all transported back to medieval Japan. As ever, it is a fabulous black and white film to enjoy (just as the director wanted) and, in its way, a very funny picaresque fable.
And, in addition, you get superstar Toshiro Mifune (he of Seven Samurai fame) as the cunning general helped by the two peasants
Now for the second film of the day.
My pal Les loves Audrey Hepburn. Walk into his house and there’s an iconic photo of the Hollywood star on the wall. Walk down his hallway and there is a gamine picture of her, elegant, smart, knowing.
She was a beauty and had a string of hits. Yet she gave up the movie game for eight years to raise a family.
And then she was back to make an historical romance with Sean Connery in the mid -eventies. Robin and Marian (Thurs, 14.50, Movie Mix) is a delight. The hero Robin of Sherwood (Connery) returns to the forest twenty years after fighting pointless wars with a psychotic Richard the Lionheart. He is middle-aged, cranky of body, cranky of mind, a bit of a boor.
He finds things still in a state of nastiness with the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) still keeping the good denizens under his iron thumb.
Then, with that two decade hiatus, Robin re-unites with the love of his life, Maid Marian (Hepburn), now the dutiful abbess of a nunnery. She is being threatened by the mail-fisted powers above and Robin ain’t having none of it. To arms, brothers of the Forest.
The film is directed by Richard Lester, who made his name with The Beatles’ movies, the Superrman series and a couple of good solid Musketeer productions. So he knows about storytelling, keeping things fresh and what action is about. Connery is ably bolstered up by a hefty Brit cast: Nicol Williamson, Shaw, Richard Harris, Denholm Elliot, Ronnie Barker (as Friar Tuck) and Ian Holm.
And you get real bangs for your bucks with a one-on-one fight to the death between Connery and Robert Shaw to add vinegar to the action. (Screengrab trivia: This is the second time the two have a mega-fight on the screen. A dozen years previously, they fought it out on a train in the 007 film From Russia With Love.)
But the real sensitivity of this movie is the spark between Robin and Marian.
a fine portrait of late middle-age love
They know there is history between them going back twenty years. She has yet to forgive him for leaving her for Lionheart quests and he is bitter, short tempered, thin skinned but still a hero.
They fall in love again and this is a fine portrait of the flame of late middle age romance. They know they are doomed by the feudal vultures running the country, they know they will lose their battles. But they die together with a mortally wounded Robin, on his deathbed, firing an arrow through a window to show Little John where he and his lover shall be buried together.
I think this is one of 007’s best roles following the James Bond juggernaut. And Hepburn is wise, alluring and sharp tongued. Robin has to do battle on two fronts: with the violent bosses who rule Nottingham and with his ageing but still tender heart. Connery pulls it off but Hepburn is the role you remember, the abbess who still has romance in her soul.