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    In Which They Serve: Ralph and Gordon Edition

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Two United Kingdom character acting stalwarts share today as a birthday, one an aristocratic lion cherished as an all-time greats of stage and screen, the other a capable, “regular Joe” veteran who elevated many an ensemble by his presence. To cinema historian David Shipman, writing in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, the quintessentially British Ralph Richardson (1902-1983), born 115 years ago and knighted in 1947, was “particularly good at projecting the intellectual ‘ordinary’ man and the aristocrat ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ He is nimble, blunt, trusting, but there is an intelligence which overrides every other quality.” To John Alderton, a fellow Upstairs Downstairs cast member, the red-haired Scotsman who portrayed the iconic manservant Hudson, Gordon Jackson (1923-1990, who would have become 94 today and was awarded Order of the British Empire honors in 1979), was “the sweetest, gentlest man I have ever met. To have worked with him was a privilege, to be counted as a friend was an honor.” Between the pair of them, Twilight Time has had the honor and privilege of their fine work, playing roles both high-born and lower-class, in seven dandy hi-def Blu-ray titles, two of which have sold out (Richardson’s 1966 Khartoum and Jackson’s 1965 Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and five of which remain available.

    Sir Ralph contributes three finely etched portrayals in the distinguished ensembles of the Carol Reed/Graham Greene espionage comedy Our Man in Havana (1959) as the befuddled spy master “C,” director Otto Preminger’s stirring Leon Uris adaptation of Exodus (1960) as the conflicted but ultimately compassionate British Gen. Sutherland, and, with a twinkle and a blithe serenity in chilly totalitarian surroundings, as the Librarian, keeper of the global corporatocracy’s super-computer, in director Norman Jewison’s futuristic dystopian fable Rollerball (1975). Jackson, so memorable on the Allied side as “Intelligence” in the 1963 prisoner-of-war epic The Great Escape, switched allegiances to play the cautiously cynical military aide to dogged German murder investigator Omar Sharif in the early Warsaw-set sequences of director Anatole Litvak’s disquieting all-star World War II suspense thriller The Night of the Generals (1967). Two years later, he graduated to perhaps his most prominent and heartrending pre-Upstairs Downstairs role under Ronald Neame's direction as Gordon Lowther, the reserved and proper music instructor/ church choirmaster at Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls, who tries – and fails – to capture the feckless heart of Maggie Smith’s tempestuous title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969, available only here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28400/THE-PRIME-OF-MISS-JEAN-BRODIE-1969/). Five great 1080p experiences are given added luster by the welcome craft of two masterful embodiments of dutiful butlers – Sir Ralph’s indelible Baines of another Reed/Greene project, The Fallen Idol (1949), and OBE Gordon’s devoted Angus Hudson of the Bellamy household. The long screen service of both birthday honorees remains distinguished and proud.

      

    The Fog of War and Filmmaking

    When the Academy Award®-winning producer and Oscar®-nominated stars of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) were reunited four years later for another big-budget period epic, cinematic lightning did not strike twice. The Night of the Generals (1967), which began its national theatrical release 50 years ago today, is a tantalizing murder mystery set inside the German military elite during the World War II [...]

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    The Muse at 90: Juliette Greco

    An icon of France and regarded as an intoxicant of rare vintage around the world, singer-actress Juliette Gréco turns 90 today, still a seductress and still a survivor decades after her World War II-era Resistance activities and imprisonment as well as friendships and fruitful collaborations with artistic legends like Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Miles Davis that followed [...]

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    Twilight Annals of War

    Revisiting favorite war movies – and their varying elements of bravery in battle, crises of conscience, cruelties of leadership, lone-wolf espionage, soldierly camaraderie, unexpected heroism, jeopardized romance and just plain survival – to commemorate Veterans Day is a long-standing tradition. One may find lists of the all-time greatest war films elsewhere, but for your consideration, here’s a Twilight Time squad [...]

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    A Jarre-ing Train Trip

    With just four film collaborations with director David Lean, Lyon-born Maurice Jarre (1924-2009), born 92 years ago today, would command a secure place among the greatest film composers. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), A Passage to India (1984), all of which won Best Original Score Academy Awards®, and Ryan’s Daughter (1970) featured instantly memorable musical passages of majestic sweep [...]

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    The Face Among the Generals

    Peter O’Toole (1932-2013), born 84 years ago today, easily deserved an Academy Award® for each of the eight times he was nominated as Best Actor but since he brought a glimmer of star quality, a dash of mystery and a pinch of eccentricity to almost all his screen roles across his 50-year movie career, many a movie was elevated [...]

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    Diane and Donald

    Faces made for movie screens – one from Australia that made a vivid impression in only a handful of appearances, the other from England who was a regular and welcome presence for 40 years – are the focus of birthday commemorations today. Queensland-born Diane Cilento (1933-2011), a great beauty nominated for a Tony® Award playing Helen of Troy in [...]

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