Screengrab: A gamine English star, a prickly Scot and Skelton Knaggs

Baz as Sherlock

Richard Lutz points the finger at a quartet of movies that will fill your crystal screen this week.


Hey, we got a double dose of movies this week on the box. Two per night – that’s a credible quartet of films. All on Film4 which, for some reason, has woken from a deep sleep and given us watchable stuff.

On Thursday, we kick off with Robin and Marian (11.00 am). Now, there have been a surfeit of Robin Hood films over the years; even Russell Crowe and dead-on-his-feet Kevin Costner have tried their luck. But this one is good.

Sean Connery is an ageing Robin back from the Crusades after twenty years. Marian (Audrey Hepburn) is in the nunnery and they still groove on each other. Connery, the prickly Scot, and La Hep, the gamine Anglo-Belgian star, have that indefinable screen chemistry as they banter, quibble and argy-bargy through the usual Sherwood Forest myth.

Richard Lester, he of Hard Day’s Night, Superman epics and Three (and Four) Musketeers directed this 1976 movie. The trio, director and two stars, get it right in this tale of an older couple trying to figures things out when youth has left them. It’s a bittersweet beauty; Connery just wants to fight and fight, Marian just wants Robin and some peace. The final scene (SPOILER, SPOILER) when Robin lies dying and Marian tries to console him, is pure magic. Robert Shaw is the evil sheriff, but an intriguing one. Richard Harris is King Dick One. And, hey, good old Ronnie Barker plays Friar Tuck.

This is followed by True Grit (13.15). Not the recent one with irascible Jeff Bridges, but the original from 1969 starring John Wayne and C&W singer Glenn Campbell.

It’s a fable about revenge and honesty. Wayne is ornery one-eyed marshall Rooster Cogburn. He’s chasing the murderers of a young girl’s father. The bad guys are played by a great bunch: Robert Duvall (who Wayne wanted to punch out for being too precious), Dennis Hopper and Jeff Corey. Originally, Elvis was mooted for the role taken by Campbell. But Presley’s Svengali, Col Tom Parker, demanded top billing. That went, of course, to Wayne. He went on to win an Oscar.

Halfway through now and let’s move to Friday. And the lights are still on at Film4.

It kicks off with Two Rode Together (11.00 am). Cranky old John Ford directs James Stewart and Richard Widmark as they are hired to recapture settlers kidnapped by Comanches. Ford hated Stewart because he questioned things and also disliked Widmark because he was a leftie. Ford hated the script too (God, he was grumpy) and felt he was hired to direct a second-rate copy of The Searchers, which it was and which Ford had directed. Stewart is in his late era of acting when he produced a dark side to his characters, in direct contrast to his earlier lighter movies. His change of mood may have had something to do with five years in bombers during World War 2.

Intriguingly, the Indian chief depicted in the movie, Quanah Parker, was a real hero of the west. He led his Comanche tribes away from total slaughter, created a successful Native American cattle ranch and did really well in accepting the inevitable and tough changes in the west. Many a school, road and park in north Texas and Oklahoma is now named after this chief whose white mother was herself kidnapped by Comanches way back in the 1830’s. Maybe a movie should be made about Quanah.

This Ford vehicle is followed by Sherlock Holmes: Terror by Night (13.15). Oh, I do like a good black and white Basil Rathbone caper. Nigel Bruce is in it and it has something to do with going to Scotland to retrieve a bauble called The Jewel of Rhodesia. It really doesn’t matter. It’s old-fashioned fun.

Rathbone is in his deerstalker, taking a hit of opium and playing his fiddle while Dr Watson bumbles around and watches cricket on Sky (no, just kidding). This potboiler was the penultimate movie with the pairing of Rathbone and Watson. It’s all I need to while away a couple of hours on a rainy day.

And, as an added attraction, you get a glimpse of a one-off character actor with a great name: Skelton Knaggs (no, really). He’s the permanently dishevelled, bit part thesp who always plays the dirty pirate or the unwashed bum or the disreputable butler. He’s got a face like a prune. I’m a big Skelton Knaggs fan.

One thought on “Screengrab: A gamine English star, a prickly Scot and Skelton Knaggs

  1. All good stuff. How come the Ford film ended up being worth watching given all that hate. Just sheer professionalism? There was a play on radio 4 recently featuring the Ford character.Despite his obvious talents,power to make and break and evident wealth he came over like a medieval despot. Capricious,controlling,whimsical,cruel, bigoted. Those were his good points!
    Might you suggest a biography?

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