Two British black-and-white movie gems



I was too young to see these films at the cinema when they were first released and don’t remember ever having seen them until now. The reviews I read on Cinebeats piqued my interest and I was not disappointed.

The Innocents (1961) stars Deborah Kerr. I only remember seeing her act as well in Black Narcissus (1947), another film in which repressed sexuality is a key theme. Possessed of rare, ice-cool beauty, she was adept at convincing audiences that passion smoldered just beneath the surface. The two genuinely creepy children she takes care of in the film are played by Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens. Stephens also starred in Village of the Damned (196o), one of the most-viewed movies in my DVD collection. Jack Clayton (The Great Gatsby) directed The Innocents.

Franklin also stars in The Third Secret. Her performances in both movies are outstanding, demonstrating a maturity far beyond her years. The atmosphere of menace and suspense is much greater than in more modern, “slasher” type movies.

Douglas Slocombe’s black and white cinematography in The Third Secret is especially eye-catching. As Hitchcock demonstrated time and again, you can achieve things in black and white that you just can’t do in color. The director of the film was Charles Chrichton, whose last movie was A Fish Called Wanda.The male lead is Irish actor Stephen Boyd (Ben Hur, Fantastic Voyage), the first choice for James Bond and a great screen presence. He died of a heart attack while playing golf in 1977.

I cannot recommend these films too highly, especially for people who embrace black and white cinematography rather than being put off by it.

PS on 30/5/09

In an article entitledHurrah for monochorme movies, Guardian journalist John Patterson writes:

“…black and white is its own distinct aesthetic endeavour; there are things that can be done with tone, grain and contrast that are simply impossible – or, at least, far less satisfying – in colour photography. Film-makers with heft know this: Woody Allen, Stevens Spielberg and Soderbergh, Francis Ford Coppola, Jarmusch, the Coens and Anton Corbijn (channelling Coop, perhaps, in Control) have all made works of great beauty using the spectrum that dominated movies until the rise of Technicolor. And the instinct dies hard: film-makers forbidden the use of black and white by their producers have sometimes made colour films that drain almost all colour from the frame: think of The Terminal Man, 1984, Distant Voices Still Lives or Saving Private Ryan.

Like it or not, we are entering a new age of austerity, and it seems to me that one way to keep kinship with stark times might be to make more black and white movies. If it was good enough for Hitchcock, Hawks, Lang and Murnau, why should it be obsolete now?”

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