We've watched a couple of old movies on DVD this last week: The Quiet American, and Billy Liar. I'm pretty sure I saw the second movie when it first came out, but it meant nothing to me when I saw it tonight, so perhaps I didn't.
The Quiet American has an immensely subtle performance from Michael Redgrave as a character we never really get to like much: he’s a whiner, and selfish, and uninvolved in what goes on
around him. He has a sarcastic tongue (not entirely surprising, given that
Audie Murphy, the American of the title, waltzes in and takes over Redgrave’s woman).
Murphy is a bit flat in it, even some of the lines coming across as not being given
much meaning. It's an odd role anyway; he comes across, mostly, as a pretty good sort of fellow –
though we never quite find out what it is he’s supposed to be doing to upset
the Vietnamese so much, to the extent that they murder him. By all accounts, in the original Graham Greene book, he's a different kettle of fish, and the movie changed this and a number of other things. The dialogue in the movie is very good, courtesy Joseph
Mankiewicz, but it's quite a static film in many ways, and full of mysteries that we never quite get to grips with.
The other film, for me, hasn't fared too well over a period of time. One of the many naturalistic movies that came out in the sixties, such as Look Back in Anger and Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner, to name just two, it features an excellent cast, every one of whom is spot on...except Tom Courtenay. Courtenay's performance now seems very mannered, very over the top, especially since he's surrounded by a bunch of old actors (and some younger ones) who might well have stepped straight in off the streets of whatever unnamed Northern town they're supposed to inhabit. Certainly Billy is supposed to be a dreamer and a bit of a young man not really grown up, but apart from the brief moments when he angrily shoots people - in his imagination - his dreams are all too other-worldly to really be of use to him. And given the chance to go away with Julie Christie (you have to ask what she really sees in him and why she would want to marry him) he blows it at the last minute, and returns in preference to the safe world he's grown up in, where he can be angry at all the muttonheads around him while still dreaming his dreams - with himself at the centre. The ending is perhaps right for the character, and yet it's unsatisfying. He's such a selfish twerp you wonder why he doesn't actually take the chance to up and leave.
Wilfred Pickles and Mona Washbourne are marvellous as his parents, Gwendolyn Watts and Helen Fraser are the two markedly different 'fiancees', and Leonard Rossiter and Rodney Bewes also appear. John Schlesinger was the director.