Film fanatics and friends Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. With films from every decade since the 1930s, and movies from Italy, France, Japan, Sweden and China, there is plenty of variety, and this week’s choices, despite sharing a basis in war are very different to one another.
After Yasser’s disappointment in Fred’s opinion of ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘, he gets to give his verdict on a British romance made by Powell and Pressburger.
You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.
To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.
Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
Fred: ‘A Matter of Life and Death‘ is my pick this week. It was made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and it’s a wartime romance, but not a typical one. What did you think of the idea behind it?
Yasser: World War II films are one of my favourite genres. What I love most is the realism
YA: I came to this film knowing nothing about it. It began with Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) telling some random he’s never spoken to (Kim Hunter) to send a message to his mother before he jumps off a plane without a working chute. I liked that, I thought it was sincere
FS: David Niven – real life war hero. So it was a good start
YA: Then he jumped and got lost in the fog, so the angel of death that was sent to acquire him missed him… dear, oh dear
FS: I assume that means you think it was a weak plot point
YA: As soon as I realised what kind of film this was, it had to be amazing for me to wholly like it
YA: I don’t mind romantic stories. I don’t mind romantic war stories, but why, for crying out loud, mix something as real as a war that has just happened with romance AND fantasy
FS: Don’t you think it’s a clever twist on the usual wartime romance? There was plenty of comedies, romances and fantasies made during the war, so what’s the problem with making one in the aftermath?
YA: It wasn’t a comedy or a fantasy or a romance, it was a concoction of all three. It was hard to tell what was the most prominent at different times during the film
FS: I think romantic fantasy describes it best
FS: I had quite high hopes for this for one reason
YA: What was that?
FS: You chose ‘Meet Joe Black‘ in your 25 and there are similarities in the plot
YA: Yeah, similarities, but no Anthony Hopkins and no beautiful scenes of grand splendour
YA: Why do you like it?
FS: Let’s start with the cast. David Niven is one of my all-time favourite people, let alone movie stars, and this is one of his best roles
YA: I like the look of him, the sound of him, and he’s amazing in ‘The Pink Panther‘
FS: He’s the perfect choice for Peter Carter. An unassuming, quiet man who sees war, and dying in war, as his duty, but he’s also a hopeless romantic and when he gets his extra time on earth, he wants to make the most of it
YA: Niven plays him very well. the character has a noble quality to him
FS: It would have been tasteless to have scenes of him raging at the thought of dying. He wants to live as he has a new reason to do so, but you know that if the celestial court decides that he should die he will take it like a man
YA: When he’s about to meet his demise at the beginning he takes it on the chin. I didn’t have any qualms with Niven or his performance
FS: I thought you’d like Kim Hunter as I know you don’t like weak females
YA: You’re right. I don’t like weak female characters that are overdramatic or over-reliant on men, but in a romantic film you’d expect the female to “sing with rapture and dance like a dervish“, which Hunter doesn’t manage to do
YA: (laughs) I like female leads to hold their own, but not be too sheltered. They need to be vulnerable at times, but still strong overall. I thought Kim Hunter was wooden
FS: I’m not saying her performance was amazing, but I think she was pretty good. There was also three good supporting performances from Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring
YA: Conductor 71 (Goring)! After Niven, he was my favourite
FS: I liked Roger Livesey. In many ways he is the real hero of the story
YA: He plays Dr. Frank Reeves very well. Good, educated, but like most doctors he thinks he knows it all
FS: It was a difficult part to play. He has to be a realist as he’s a medical man and he can’t believe what happens in Carter’s hallucinations is actually real, but then he ends up far more involved than he expected
YA: It’s in that transition that makes it somewhat laughable. When he’s asked to play a bigger part in Carter’s experiences there is no shock. It’s almost as though he expected it
YA: Let’s talk about Massey and Goring. Massey plays Abraham Farlan
FS: Yes, the American ‘prosecutor’ trying to make a case why Carter doesn’t deserve to live
YA: Yes, and he’s supposed to be an American Revolutionary war-hero who hates British people, but he’s not an actual person. He’s made up
FS: Yes. I think he’s supposed to be the first man killed by the British during the revolution
FS: That he was not real?
YA: A little bit, yes. It would have added to the fantasy element if it was mixed with realism
FS: I don’t agree really
YA: It’s a niggle, not a major problem
FS: Massey is suitably caustic, though. I liked him
YA: I didn’t. There was too much ignorance to him. There was a hatred, as if they didn’t want Carter to have a fair chance
FS: They didn’t. The court specifically chose him because he hated Britons.
YA: That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like God’s angels choosing the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to fight against a black guy in a legal case that has nothing to do with race
FS: Well the film makers are very careful to call it ‘The Other Side’, not heaven, so that fairness and morality don’t have to have any sway. They want to correct the mistake of Carter not dying and they don’t want to play fair
YA: If fairness and morality didn’t have much of a sway, then they wouldn’t have given Carter the opportunity to appeal. In some ways ‘The Other Side’ is playing fair, and in other ways they aren’t. What the fuck?
FS: I see your point. The way I see it they want to give him a chance, but they are going to give themselves the best chance of winning, like if we were fighting over the last biscuit, and I have a sub-machine gun and let you have a stick
FS: What about Marius Goring?
YA: That boy had swag! (laughs)
YA: He was really cool. He made me laugh as he tried to be friendly with Carter, but he was sneaky. He was the best of the supporting cast.
FS: What about the look of the film?
YA: I liked the contrast of colour in the real world, and black and white in the other place. It’s a nice blend
FS: Anything else you liked?
YA: I didn’t like that the doc had better chemistry with June than Carter did
FS: Okay, I asked you what you liked! I feel a ‘Wild Strawberries‘ moment coming on
YA: (laughs) Nooooooooo. It wasn’t THAT bad. The story moved at a good pace, and it was an okay story, but the main thing I liked about it was Niven. It was all a bit predictable
FS: For all your goblins, wizards and superheroes, this is what a fantasy film should be like. Real but fantastic
FS: Do you mean that age hasn’t been kind to it?
YA: After the terrible events of WW2, I think the British public would’ve adored something like this, and the concept is timeless. i just don’t think it was as well executed as it could’ve been. Some of the romantic elements were too coincidental and laughable
FS: Okay. Well I know you were very much undecided what to rate it, but the time has come
YA: So the premise is good. If the whole film had been like first scene where Carter has to jump out of the plane without a parachute and he speaks to June on the radio, I would have loved it. Niven as Carter is brilliant. He’s a believable character. However, Hunter opposite him is wooden and the chemistry after their initial conversation is lacklustre, and that isn’t helped when you see her with Dr. Reeves. They look a more likely couple. Marius Goring is the best of the supporting cast. He sticks out like a sore thumb…
FS: (laughs) A sore thumb? Isn’t that a bad thing?
YA: (laughs) Okay, he stands out from the crowd. There are too many plot holes and coincidences, and a lot of it was quite predictable. The court scenes at the end were good, well shot and Livesey really delivers in those scenes. The thing is, the film didn’t know if it was a fantasy or a romance with a touch of war. It was like a cacophony of all three, and that didn’t work for me
FS: It’s just a romantic fantasy set five years in the past from when it was made. In many ways the war element is totally incidental
YA: I’ve been struggling because I really wanted to like this movie, but it’s getting 6/10
Next week: Steven Spielberg’s harrowing ‘Schindler’s List’ and The Marx Brothers’ hilarious ‘A Night at the Opera’