Screengrab: Gems from the midnight hour

Richard Lutz digs through the night files to find movies from the wee hours on the box. Think Hackman, Dern, Bigelow, Nicholson, Dunaway


Someone wth a brain who’s pulling the switches inside Britain’s Film4 channel has surfaced with a nifty idea: Put out great classics after midnight. Now, there’s a thought. So all this week, as you sit saucer-eyed with a half empty bag of curry flavoured Doritos on your lap, you can also gulp down some Can’t Miss Movies. Or even record them or, better yet, even ignore steam engine technology and download the lot sometime for the future when your cerebral cortex will be biochemically linked to the mainframe computers that media bosses will use to rule this little rock we live on.

So, onwards to the schedules wth your grubby little fingers on that Wee Hours Button.

On Tuesday at ten minutes past midnight, Film4 slaps Zero Dark Thirty down the line. This 2012 political thriller, starring Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, The Help), is taut, still relevant and controversial as it chronicles a fictionalised search for Osama bin Laden after The Twin Towers attack. Simply because it is directed by Karen Bigelow is reason enough to follow the terror hunt. She has done Detroit, which opens this week to huge acclaim and has her fingerprints all over The Hurt Locker and Strange Days which, to her credit, are standouts too. James Gandalfino (The Sopranos) has a supporting role as a CIA boss, in one of his last roles before he suddenly died.

Wednesday starts a run of classy movies from the seventies. At 02.15, there’s Silent Running (1972) with Bruce Dern. He’s on a lonely spaceship crammed with the last remnant of Earth’s vegetation. Dern, one of Hollywood’s early hippie stars, created a role with almost no supporting help – just three mini robots called Huey, Dewey and Louie (errrr….Donald  Duck’s nephews). It’s directed by Douglas Turnbull, with a cv as long as a comet’s tail for his special effects skills. To wit: 2001, Close Encounters and Bladerunner are rammed into his portfolio. Silent Running is a sharp and wry dark tale about how one single man (Dern) takes on an ecological disaster –
especially when he is told to destroy his space-galloping greenhouse

Film4 offers up The French Connection on Thursday at the godly hour of 01.40. Gene Hackman (above, with a dubious ‘tache) rampages through a crappy crummy New York trying to bust a heroin gang. Its chase scenes are among the best. Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, a role based on a real detective called Eddie Egan who actually broke a smack ring in the city a decade earlier. Egan plays Hackman’s boss Simonsen in the movie.

Friday brings Chinatown at 01.00. Well, what can you say? I have personally spilled gallons of digital ink on this Jack Nicholson noir masterpeice. Roman Polanski directs and old lag John Huston gets to play the mega-evil Noah Cross in a byzantine plot that sums up the cruddy side of LA in the late forties. Faye Dunaway plays the vulnerable femme fatale with a big secret.  Unmissable.

And on Saturday, we stay with crime with Serpico clocking in at 01.15. The eponymous role is grabbed by a young Al Pacino before he grew old and started SHOUTING a lot. This 1974 movie is about an undercover cop in the same decrepit NY terrain as The French Connection. Serpico, also based on a real policeman, takes on the baddies not only on the shabby streets but within his own police department as he begins to question the ethics of law and order in a dysfunctional town. 

There ya go…a week of late night classics. Crank up the box after midnight.



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