Reflections on the Golden Screen
The films on this page are taken from novels and I make it a point to read the book and watch the film or vice-versa.  It's more than interesting to compare the two art forms and see how a director translates a book onto the screen.   Many films fail to live up to the novels they are taken from simply because the reader has formed an impression in his own mind of how each character should look or act and others fail because the Director has altered his film to such an extent it bears no resemblance to the book.  Occasionally, a film will prove to be an improvement on the novel as the Director eliminates the mediocre sections and concentrates on the dramatic - one example being A Passage to India which is a slow burn to read but has made an excellent film.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre { 1948 }
Director : John Huston [Walter Huston, Tim Holt and Humphrey Bogart]
From the novel by B.Traven
It may be true that
is fondly remembered among the older generation and film buffs but there's no doubt whatsoever that it is virtually lost to younger filmgoers who may be difficult to persuade that a film made all of half a century ago has merit. In fact, apart from being an excellent film with the theme that "The love of money is the root of all evil " and a wonderfully atmospheric evocation of 1925 Tampico, Mexico, it is a fascinating slice of Hollywood history in so many diverse ways. The story itself is straightforward but the manner that it is related is chock full of classic movie vignettes ;
When John Huston takes the part of a well-heeled American in a walk-on part and is accosted three times by a down-on-his-luck Dobbs { Bogart } with the same line
"Hey Mister, stake a fellow American to a meal ?" it is both funny and poignant at the same time as Huston becomes more and more exasparated as his generosity begins to be exhausted

When Fred.C. Dobbs reveals his true nature right at the beginning of the film disgracefully throwing a glass of water over the street urchin who by chance sells him the winning lottery ticket which is the catalyst to the whole adventure.
Walter Huston's little jig when he finds he is going on another quest for gold.
And of course the classic " Badges ! I don't need no steenkin' badges!" by the Mexican bandit {Alphonso Bedoya}.
When Curtin poignantly reads the letter from Codie's wife and his expression says it all in revealing some future happiness in that direction.
There's  an uncredited cameo by Ann Sheridan as a prostitute and  so many others too many to recount.
The cast itself is as fascinating as the characters they play ; Humphrey Bogart needs no introduction but Walter Huston who is of course John Huston's dad was actually born in 1884 in Toronto. His film credits are too long to recount here but he is just as famous for his other role as the patriarch of the Huston dynasty. Tim Holt was originally among the plethora of Saturday matinee cowboys, Roy Rogers, Hopalong, Gene Autry and so on but if his performance as Curtin is anything to go by he had talents far in excess of his usual mundane roles.  The virtually unknown Bruce Bennett as Cody is the most interesting of all of them - born in 1906 he won a silver medal for the shot-putt in the 1928 Olympics and was chosen by Edgar Rice Burroughs to play Tarzan in several films in 1935. At that time he was using the name of Herman Brix and starred in a number of serials for Republic Pictures. Just like Tim Holt, Bennett was a far better actor than he was given credit for and directors like Huston must take the credit for bringing out those qualities.
Just to make things even more intriguing, the author of
The Treasure of The Sierra Madre is a complete mystery in himself. He went under so many pseudonyms that nobody ever found out who he was - there was a rumour that he met John Huston and was around the film set but nobody could prove it and even today his identity is in doubt.
But the real treasure of the Sierra Madre went undiscovered for years until Canadian naturalists diligently tracked it down. The Monarch butterfly is one of the very few of the species to migrate and the vast distances that it covered from Lower Canada to South America caused much speculation as to where it over-wintered. The site is in a remote valley in the Sierra Madre mountains where billions of the butterflies hang in the trees in such great numbers that they have been known to cause some of them to topple down.
A Place in the Sun  { 1951 } Director ; George Stevens From the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The arguments still rage about the merits of Dreiser's writing and there are those who see

An American Tragedy , written in 1925 as a crique upon Capitalism but it deals more with  with the concomitants of Capitalism, social-status and class-consciousness, rather than the political structure itself.  For some reason, at that particular time and in that particular place { upper New York State } there was a class snobbishness in place which was usually more attributable to the English aristocracy.  The social background is fundamental to both the film and the novel which is based upon a real life murder in 1906 in New York.
The plot centres around the essentially weak and self-pitying persona of George Eastman, played by the 29 year old Montgomery Clift.  George's ambitions are matched only by his ineptitude and having been given a post on the shop floor of his Uncle's manufacturing factory he manifests little flair or aptitude for even that lowly job.  He takes up with Alice, a factory girl with no pretensions or ambitions to be anything else.  Alice is played by Shelley Winters who was stunningly beautiful in her younger days and light years way from "the swimmer" that she so detested being remembered for in Poseidon.  However, Stevens chose to portray her character as drab and frumpy and not too bright with it which is hardly complimentary to factory girls in general - most of the ones I ever knew wore their working gear by day and looked like they had been sprinkled with stardust by night.  Be that as it may. Alice falls for George's good looks and providing a shoulder for him to cry on they enter into a mutually supportive relationship.
Despite his lowly position in the factory, George's benefactor is reluctantly persuaded into bringing him into the penumbra of their social sphere where the vivacious Angela Vickers { 18 years old Liz Taylor } is also taken with his good looks and blarney.  Their liaison which is at first frivolous gradually grows into a passionate love affair and with marriage in the offing George finally finds himself with the opportunity to possess the wealth and status that he has always aspired to.
On the cusp of achieving The American Dream, George's world is shattered when Alice reveals that she is pregnant and fully expects him to honour his commitment by marrying her.  
In an age when illegitimacy was frowned upon, George could think of only one solution to his problems and it was one which brought the whole house of cards crashing down.
Theodore Dreiser's novels are virtually unknown in the U.K. which is strange as they have all the elements of good social drama - made in black and white, George Stevens's interpretation of An American Tragedy  makes a great film which is also mysteriously little known.  Stevens went on to make Shane the following year.

There's a tiny feature in the film which illustrates the Director's attention to detail - in the one or two shots of George's apartment there is a print on the wall of the drowning Ophelia from Hamlet by John Everett Millais .  Painted in 1851, the symbolism of the drowned Ophelia is a potent reminder of what is  about to happen to poor  Alice.

 Elmer Gantry  1960  Director : Richard Brooks
From the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Circa the 1920's Sinclair Lewis was feted for his perceptive novels about small-town U.S.A. and the morals and mores of their inhabitants. He took the Nobel Prize for Literature for Dodsworth much to the chagrin of Theodore Dreiser but for what it's worth in my opinion Elmer Gantry is his finest work.
When the name Richard Brooks is mentioned it hardly brings to mind visions of a top-class film Director, if indeed it brings to mind anyone at all.  But top-class Director is what he was with films such as
Lord Jim, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Professionals  among others credited to him throughout the 50's and 60's. Largely forgotten now,
The Blackboard Jungle made in 1955 was a sensation in its day with Glenn Ford as a besieged teacher in an inner city school.  it was arguably Brooks' finest work and is as relevant now as it was then.
Brooks' translation of Sinclair Lewis's novel onto the screen is the work of a craftsman and the result is a thoughtful and entertaining film which easily passes the litmus test of being as fresh today as the day it was released.
Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry positively demands our attention with a dynamic virtuoso performance which switches abruptly from hyperactive flamboyance to hell and damnation oratory through flashing smiles and bonhomie and onto a charm and sincerity that would make the angels weep. It's a roller-coaster ride through a range of emotions expressed by an actor at the height of his powers. It's the Crimson Pirate meets Billy Graham and it's brilliant!  But don't just take my word for it -- Hollywood thought so too and awarded him an Oscar to prove it.
When we first encounter Elmer he is an unsuccessful travelling salesman punctuating his attempts at selling with bouts of drinking and womanising. Quite by chance he comes across a Revivalist meeting where two things catch his attention - the first is the realization that there is money to be made and the second is the alluring but virginal Sister Sharon Falconer {Jean Simmons }. The self-styled Sister Sharon carries her piety and humility around with her like a cloak, serving only to pique Elmer's lust even more.  Ingratiating himself with the Revivalists, Elmer finds that he has the power to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and revels in the theatrics of his new role. Fire and Brimstone style speeches interspersed with rousing Christian militaristic hymns culminating in the soothing presence of Sister Sharon make great theatre and the begging bowls are always brimming over.
There is an outstandingly hilarious scene when Elmer first takes to the podium and after a rousing speech the silence is deafening.  A man leaps from the audience and races along the aisle taking his coat off as he goes. Elmer immediately squares up the man before he realizes that he is asking for Redemption. He never looks back after that and Elmer has found his true vocation.
Burt Lancaster's presence in Elmer Gantry is all-encompassing but the rest of the cast complement his performance as if they are aware that this is his finest hour. Jean Simmons is so pure that she makes you sick until it turns out that she is plain Katie from nowheresville and was brought up in abject poverty, explaining her affinity for money. But nothing is as it seems in
Elmer Gantry and Sister Falconer intoxicated with her own success begins to believe in her own divinity.
Arthur Kennedy plays Jim Lefferts a newspaper reporter who follows the proceedings with a wry smile. Underplaying his role with his usual restraint, Kennedy's reporter is a fine foil for the boisterous Gantry and the two of them have some great dialogue and repartee reminiscent of 
Inherit the WindThere are some very clever theological arguments which are spoken with machine-gun rapidity and make no concession to the listener but if you can catch them they are well worth listening to with subtleties and nuances unusual for any film. One particular argument which goes to and fro ends with Gantry accusing Lefferts of being " just like Mencken, Ingersoll, Sinclair Lewis and all the other atheists".
There are some surprising twists and turns at the end of the film and all of the characters turn out to be multi-layered with unexpected strengths and weaknesses.  Shirley Jones as the feckless prostitute, Lulu, turns in a fine performance making her character far more than the stock "tart-with-a-heart" and it is implied but not stated that Gantry is responsible for the situation she finds herself in.
Sinclair Lewis took the subject of Evangelism and highlighted the hypocrisy and cant of the Revivalists, the frenzied, rock-concert atmosphere and the gullibility of the patrons. Written in 1927, his novel was almost prophetic in its accuracy when Jimmy Swaggart et al played out the very same roles in real life 30 years later.
A great movie produced from a great novel, seriously excellent acting, thought-provoking dialogue and a great cast all within a morality tale which still stands --- special effects are superfluous in films this good.

Billy Budd { 1962 }
Director : Peter Ustinov
From the novel by Herman Melville

Billy Budd the stage play is a favourite of audiences everywhere and can usually be found playing somewhere around the country. In contrast, Billy Budd the film has faded so much into obscurity that it is difficult to obtain a copy. It is a given that cinema audiences are no less knowledgeable than theatre audiences so why this should be so is a mystery particularly in view of the fact that it is a great little movie and completely faithful to its origins.
Written in 1856, Melville's sea story is set in 1797 to a background of the French Revolution, sending shock-waves throughout Europe and the previously unthinkable occurrences of British seamen mutinying in port. These two events are to have a devastating effect on the fate of Melville's hero Billy, The Handsome Seaman, played to perfection by Terence Stamp. The term Handsome Seaman was in common usage at the time and did not carry the connotations that it would have today - just the opposite in fact, with a Handsome Seaman regarded by his fellow crewmen as an excellent seaman, strong, athletic and brave and altogether a man among men.
When Billy is transferred to a new ship he immediately becomes a favourite among his crew mates and at the same time the object of the ire of the Master-of Arms, Claggart, played by Robert Ryan, who rides him unmercifully. It is a deliberate irony that the name of the ship is The Rights of Man.
Whenever Billy comes under stress he develops a stammer and in the pivotal part of the film, unable to respond to Claggart's unjust accusations he lashes out in frustration and inadvertently kills the officer. Billy's trial and ultimate fate are determined by Captain Vere {Peter Ustinov} with the aforementioned political situation playing a great part in his decision.
On the face of it, Melville's story is quite straightforward but looked at in depth it is more complex and explores the nature of jealousy, hatred, envy and good and evil and not least how punishment is sometimes unjust in order to satisfy the greater good.
A measure of just how much of an impact this film can deliver is that I have never se
en Billy Budd for more years than I care to remember and all of the above is drawn from memory.
  Is Paris Burning ? {1966 }
Director : René Clément
Larry Collins's and Dominique LaPierre's book of the same name is a documentary of the liberation of Paris which reads like a novel.  The two authors' collaborations have the knack of bringing history to life and all of their books are extremely exciting page-turners which educate and entertain in a unique style all of their own
; City of Angels was an evocation of poverty in India and Or I'll Dress You in Mourning  told the story of the bullfighting legend Manolito {Tom Jones was due to star in a musical version but the idea fizzled out leaving only the flagship song The Boy From Nowhere} and Is Paris Burning ? which  is possibly the best of all their books - a riveting account of Hitler's orders to burn Paris and the Commandant Von Choltiz's ultimately successful evasions to do so - hence Hitler's phone calls to ask "Is Paris burning ? ."
The film version makes a brave attempt to reproduce the excitement and tension of the book but despite a staggering cast of truly biblical proportions the film falls short and in a way it's the very numbers of stars which overwhelm the film.  The star-spotting is so pervasive that it detracts from the action and even worse is that very few of the stellar cast of actresses and actors have long enough on screen to exhibit their skills ---- Simone Signoret is miscast as a barmaid but you could miss her if you blink, Kirk Douglas's Patton is the same and Glenn Ford as Omar Bradley has just enough time to salute and so it goes on.  Robert Stack. Anthony Perkins, Gert Frobe and so many other favourites are all wasted in a positive celebration of casting gluttony.
Why there were so many a-list stars present is a mystery because in truth the film is not character driven and is never about the quality of acting ---the true star of the film is the city of Paris itself around which most of the action revolves.  The black and white film and the street-fighting scenes blend in well with the archive material giving the film an inescapable documentary quality.  The streets of Paris are completely empty as the action takes place which is incredible in itself given the density of population and the swarms of tourists and such are the numerous shots of Paris streets that in time this film could be a valuable historic record if nothing else.  
Despite the presence of Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola as screenwriters the film is nowhere near as gripping as the book and underplays the importance of Von Choltiz's role in history.  Nevertheless, despite all its faults the film does bring a major historical event to life and puts flesh on the bones of all those plaques dotted around Paris denoting the place of a fallen freedom fighter.
The Duellists  {1977 }
Director : Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott proved to be a class act right from the word go, winning the Best Debut Film award at Cannes for his very first effort at directing.  Based on a Joseph Conrad story called
The Duel the film had Hollywood stars Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel in the unusual roles of French officers during the Napoleonic wars.  Keitel as the rabid Bonapartist Feraud is notoriously touchy and can be antagonised by anything that he perceives as a slight upon himself or his idol Napoleon, no matter how trivial, and the opening scenes show him dispatching a fellow officer with ruthless efficiency.  Feraud is humourless,  volatile and dangerous and a man without a single shred of compassion.  Keith Carradine as the easy-going D'Hubert inadvertently falls foul of Feraud's capacity for illogical anger and cannot believe that a chance remark should prompt such an extreme reaction and he tries to dissuade Feraud from duelling with him.  Feraud cannot be reasoned with and D'Hubert is unwillingly forced into the first of many duels with Feraud.  The two protagonists are well- matched and there is never a conclusion to satisfy Feraud whose perverted sense of honour demands that D'Hubert must die.
The careers of the two officers follow the course of the Napoleonic wars and occasionally diverge to the great relief of D'Hubert who is weary of the constant demands upon his honour by his relentless nemesis.  On the occasions when they meet Feraud inevitably demands satisfaction and D'Hubert is forced to fight over and over again until in the concluding duel D'Hubert gets the upper hand and has Feraud at his mercy refusing to kill him despite Feraud's demands to do so.  D'Hubert spares Feraud with the words ; " I have submitted to your notions of honour long enough,  You will now submit to mine. "
I am very wary of attributing allegorical undercurrents to any film for the simple reason that they can so easily be just figments of the imagination. Not only that ,I have seen films with allegorical sub-plots which make very little sense
{Poseidon comes to mind } and there is no mention of any allegory in The DuellistsHowever, In The Duellists everything points to the inescapable assumption that the duels are allegories of Napoleon's battles with nations that he has forced to fight and his belligerence across the battlefields of Europe.  D'Hubert's reluctance to fight and eventual wearying of duels are parodies of a war-weary Europe finally overcoming Napoleon.  The final scene of Feraud with his back to us gazing out across the landscape copies faithfully the sketches of Napoleon on St.Helena.  
The allegorical nature of the film is my assertion and is not proven at all but what is true is that Scott's story is based upon a real-life series of events in Napoleonic times when a Captain Dupont and a Captain Fournier fought an incredible 17 duels over a period of 19 years.  Although this section makes comparisons with book and film, in most cases I have read the book and seen the film, but I must confess that having read Conrad previously, I find his writing tedious in the extreme and I take it on trust that Ridley Scott copied the story faithfully.
Even if you can't be bothered with the allegories this is still a very fine film and captures  perfectly the aura surrounding Napoleon and the dog-like devotion it inspired in many of his followers.  And above all else there is some nerve-tingling swordplay.

Greystoke : The Legend of Tarzan  {1984 }
Director ; Hugh Hudson
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in 1885 in Chicago and his first novel was
A Princess of Mars written in 1911, which introduced the character John Carter who still pops up here and there in comics and reprinted novels. But his most enduring creation came to light the following year in a novel called Tarzan of the Apes which immediately captured the imagination of a whole host of fantasy fans. Tarzan came into the world at a time when Africa was still The Dark Continent, when gorillas were demonised as savage beasts and exotically-dressed native tribes were a source of fear and wonder - the existence of a white Jungle Lord in the midst of all these dangers was irresistible to Tarzan readers. Burroughs had never been to Africa but his fertile imagination conjured up all of the preceding dangers and as book followed book, Tarzan faced even more bizarre foes. However, the original and first novel had not yet reached that stage and the story of an English aristocrat and his wife cast away on the coast of Africa, beset by wild animals, and eventually killed by apes with their baby taken and nurtured by a she-ape, captured the imaginations of both American and English readers.
The first movie came out in 1918, with Elmo Lincoln playing Tarzan in
Tarzan of the Apes in a reasonable adaptation of the first novel. But Hollywood soon strayed from Edgar Rice Burroughs's conception of the Ape-Man and he very soon evolved into an all-round good guy where Johnny Weissmuller dispensed justice to wrongdoers while living with Jane (usually Maureen O'Sullivan) in a tree-house in the jungle version of suburbia. He was pals with all the natives and all the cute animals and occasionally rolled over and over with the same crocodile in every film.   Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan was a million miles away from his screen portrayals - he was as wild as the apes who brought him up and fought and lived as one of them.  Far from having a faithful band of Waziri on permanent standby Tarzan's idea of fun was to sneak into the native villages in the middle of the night and after slaying as many of the blacks as he could, would mount their heads on poles for the tribe to awaken to. The animals he came across were never cute -he ate most of them -and all in all he was a creature to be feared as much as the tribe of mythical apes that brought him up.
Any mention of the Tarzan movies inevitably evokes images of Johnny Weissmuller who made 12 Tarzan films between 1932 and 1948.  Although Weissmuller's Tarzan bore no resemblance to Burrough's conception it did appeal to an audience which was far less sophisticated than today and provided an escape from reality during the war years.  Very few of the audiences at that time would have known or cared about the difference between an African and an Asian elephant or the South American animals and plants which had been transplanted to africa but what they did enjoy was being transported temporarily to a fantasyland where good always triumphed over evil.
All of the Tarzan films have followed the same format with one single film outstanding in its attempt to capture Burrough's original ape-man as he was meant to be filmed in the early years of the 20th century.
It wasn't until 1984 that Hugh Hudson bravely reverted to the original story with the grand title of Greystoke : The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, choosing for his leading man the virtually unknown Frenchman, Christophe Lambert, who has done nothing as good before or since. Tarzan of the Apes is essentially a Victorian melodrama and the choice of Lambert as an English aristocrat turned out to be inspired. His glowering visage when angered contrasts with his little-boy- lost to perfection and Andie McDowell as Jane has no difficulty in falling for his charms. There is very little of the by now hackneyed battle with a crocodile or lion and nothing of Cheetah's cheeky charms -the film concentrates more on Tarzan's rehabilitation into civilisation and his reaction to the manner in which his erstwhile family of apes are held in captivity.
There are some outstanding cameo performances and some memorable scenes; Ralph Richardson as Greystoke's grandfather is excellent in particular in the dining table scene while Ian Holm brings his own brand of acting to the role of Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot. One of the tensest scenes in the film is when D'Arnot is being chased by savages and is suppressing whimpers of pain as he lies wounded in the crook of a tree while they search for him below - you can almost feel his agony as he clenches a stcik between his teeth.
It has to be said that the tribe of apes leave a little to be desired in the way of authenticity but all in all Greystoke is a far more faithful and accurate rendition of Burrough's creation that has gone before. The definitive Tarzan remains to be made but Hudson has gone far in showing the way and has made the most faithful version of the story to date.
Strangely, since Hudson's film, Tarzan as a character has gone into decline and not just on film but in the medium of comics which is sad because he inspired dozens of top class artists to produce some beautiful work over the years. Burne Hogarth was the finest of them all and his work has been copied over and over again by various artists but never to the same quality.  Hogarth captured the essence of Burroughs's Tarzan to perfection and again it is a mystery why his art is passing into obscurity, sought after only by a small minority of fans.
Tarzan is one of the great icons of western popular art and has endured for over a century and there's little doubt that he's out there now in some primeval jungle stacking up a whole heap of new adventures for a brand new audience.  It is inconceivable that he never returns and one day an innovative Director will pick up the baton and film a CGI enhanced film which will do justice to Edgar Rice Burrough's hero.
Legends of the Fall   { 1994 }
Director : Edward Zwick
From a novella by Jim Harrison
Legends of the Fall is a Homeric saga of grand proportions set in Montana, spanning the years from the 1880's to the 1960's. Epics such as these are normally to be found bending the legs of coffee tables because their massive bulk is too heavy to hold up in bed but Jim Harrison has performed the incredible feat of condensing the whole story into a novella. Director Edward Zwick has omitted nothing from the original story but in fact has made several additions and alterations without detracting from the source and has also performed wonders in fitting the whole saga within the narrow parameters of a film.
It's the mark of a good film when the members of the supporting cast are as memorable as the main stars and Zwick has taken Harrison's cast of characters and carefully imbued their screen personas with a singular personality of their own. Each of the players in the film is as fascinating as the next in their own distinctive way -from One Stab {Gordon Tootoosis} the Cree Indian narrator to Pet Decker played by Tantoo Cardinal {who can also be seen in
Black Robe} and her husband played by Paul Desmond. Neither of the latter have many lines in the film but both have that indefinable "presence" which draws the eye to them whenever they are on screen. The O'Banions, the Sheriff, the police officers and all the rest are brought to life by Zwick's caring direction.
The focus of the film is the Ludlow family headed by Colonel Ludlow {played by Anthony Hopkins with his usual careless brilliance} who has tired of so-called civilization and has taken his three sons to live in the wilds of Montana. Each of his offspring have distinctive personalities, varying wildly from the idealistic Samuel {Henry Thomas} to the pragmatic Alfred {Aidan Quinn} and onto the wild and restless Tristan {Brad Pitt}. When Samuel brings home the beautiful Susannah Fincannon {Julia Ormond} it would be traditional to believe the time-worn cliché that she is the catalyst for all the catastrophic events that follow and on the face of it there is some truth in that. However, closer scrutiny reveals that most of the happenings are triggered by Samuel himself whose idealistic patriotism is instrumental in leading his brothers into the horrors of the Great War in some vague obsession about following in his father's martial footsteps.
Charged with looking after Samuel, Tristan is distraught when his brother dies in a hail of bullets trapped on barbed wire. From then on, Tristan is haunted with misplaced guilt and his behaviour becomes even more erratic as he fights his demons. Susannah has demons of her own to contend with as does Alfred, and the death of Samuel has a profound effect on the whole family splitting them all asunder and scattering them to the four winds. The intricacies of the plot and the fate of each of the characters are far too complex to relate here -suffice it to say that it is fascinating to discover just what happens to each and every one of them and quite moving on occasions.
Although the twists and turns and nuances of the plot are diverse none of it comes across as contrived and all of it is quite credible. Beginning at a leisurely pace, the intricate and subtle plot is never dull or slow and as it goes along it gathers speed accordingly until in the final thirty minutes it is travelling like an express train. In fact the finale of this film is one of the finest that I can recall, bringing together all the loose ends in an explosive and surprising finish.
One of my all-time great movies ---- understated and underrated. A family saga of the old school which avoids all the melodramatic traps of the genre.

The Shawshank Redemption {1994}
Director : Frank Darabont
It's difficult to believe that a film with such excellent credentials would ever make it into the "Lost and Found" section but that's exactly what happened to
The Shawshank Redemption.  It was off the radar for several years simply because the title is less than inspirational and even now there are people out there who are missing out for that very reason -if you didn't know and there was a choice between Shawshank and Mission Impossible and all the other blockbusters which would you go and see ? And so, for a long time the film was watched by a few of the more discerning film fans only, and knowing quality when they saw it a sort of cult status began to arise, leading to word of mouth recommendations which have ensured that Shawshank has entered the mainstream and it is slowly but surely coming to be seen as one of the finest films of all time.
There is an elusive "je ne sais pas" quality to Shawshank and anyone who is asked what they think of it invariably breaks into a grin and a nod of appreciation
Frank Darabont has made a delightful movie from that rarity which is a Stephen King short story minus any horror connotations with the intriguing title of  Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank RedemptionStephen King is a master storyteller and Darabont has retained that intimacy between audience and cast by using Morgan Freeman's rich baritone to relate the story as he sees it. The old con  Red Redding} personalises the story to such an extent that it is as if he is speaking directly to each member of the audience and the effect is enthralling.
Tim Robbins invariably chooses parts which are intelligent and unusual but he will wait a long time before another Andy Dufresne comes along. Likeable and easy-going, Andy is as vulnerable as you and I would be in a tough prison yard but to the wonderment of Red he exhibits talent after talent for survival which finally leads them both to freedom.
An understated masterpiece of film making ---watch the film, read the story.
The Green Mile (1999)
Director : Frank Darabont
Paul Edgecomb: They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair then. Old Sparky, we called it.
 t's not clear if he was aware of it, but with his Shawshank story Stephen King had created an updated version of The Count of Monte Cristo with a sprinkling of The Fugitive thrown in for good measure.  However, the plot of The Green Mile is unique to Stephen King and both book and film are riveting entertainment.  However, the horrific electric chair scenes were inspired by the real-life, botched execution of Jesse Tafero in 1990 and Tafero's execution and the scenes in the film are not just similar but exactly the same.  Tafero's dreadful death has since been used by opponents of the death penalty with their case furtjer strengthened by the revelation that he was later found to be not guilty.  There have been several films made of Stephen King's books but none of them  can match Shawshank and The Green Mile which both capture the author's style to the highest degree possible - but it has to be said that nothing can compare to Stephen King's writing.  Although King's storylines are unique the real strength of his writing lies in his exploration of human nature and its many foibles and although Darabont does his best to do this, there is a point where even the finest Director will stumble trying to capture Stephen King's incomparable writing style.
There is a sterling cast in the film which Darabont utilises fully - with Tom Hanks' humane prison-guard, Paul Edgecomb, the perfect foil for the sadistic Percy Wetmore played to perfection by Doug Hutchison.  David Morse and Barry Pepper are both at their best as prison-guards but the real star of the show is the massive figure of Michael Clarke Duncan as the enigmatic John Coffey whose supernatural powers are a mystery both to himself and everyone else, hinting of greater powers than our own at work.
  The Bridges of Madison County {1995}
Director : Clint Eastwood
From the novel by Robert James Waller
There's no action, there's no bad guys to shoot at and it's set mostly within the confines of an Iowa farmhouse and as it is first and foremost a love story I would say that this is a "woman's film"and not for me and I suspect that this is why it never took off at the box office. However, in an idle moment I had read a compilation of short stories by the author and found them to be outstandingly well written and extremely moving.  Robert. J.Waller has the disconcerting habit of writing beautiful prose and giving it such mediocre titles that it is a wonder he has sold any books at all.
 Puerto Vallarta Squeeze Old Songs in a New Café and Border Music are hardly inspirational titles but they are all excellent reading and Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend is a hauntingly beautiful love story set in America and India. The Bridges of Madison County hardly set the cash boxes jangling on its release but it is in fact one of Clint Eastwood's finest films, stating eloquently that he has become an actor and director of many talents.
Ostensibly, the film is simply a three day love affair between an itinerant photographer and a bored housewife but in reality it is about unfulfilled dreams and lives unlived. Francesca Johnson {Meryl Streep} has met an American soldier during the war in her native Italy and like so many G.I. brides her romantic images of life in America have been shattered; she lives in an isolated farmhouse with her teenage children and adoring husband and although she loves them all, her triumph and her tragedy are that she is extremely intelligent and has the soul of a poet with no way to fulfil her potential.  Women everywhere will identify with Francesca as she puts her families needs before her own. On the other hand, Robert Kincaid {Clint Eastwood} is a well-travelled man of the world - on the surface self-sufficient and needing nobody, but underneath is more vulnerable and fragile than his appearance will allow; his romantic life-style is missing the one thing that Francesca has -the stability of a loving wife.
The pair of them complement each other and the chemistry between them is palpable; in fact the first stumbling steps they take on the way to an affair are far more erotic than all the naked romps which seem to be obligatory these days. There are scenes at the beginning and end of the film where Francesca's son and daughter pore over her diaries and her love affair which comes as a revelation to them both. Surprisingly, these portions of the film are quite mediocre and can only be attributed to the lack of charisma by the actors involved but they do serve the purpose of highlighting just how good Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep really are in their roles.
When Francesca sees Robert for the last time as she glimpses him dimly through a torrential rainfall it is an extremely moving finale to an old-fashioned and unashamed weepie,  as they reluctantly sacrifice their mutual love so that others will not be hurt.          

The Last of the Mohicans { 1992 }
Director : Michael Mann
From the novel by James Fenimore Cooper
Written in 1826 and universally acknowledged to be a classic, James Fenimore Cooper's most famous novel is virtually unreadable today - it's too slow for the modern reader and the quaint phrases and sentences are testimony to how much our language has changed over the years. But in it's day, Mohicans was a best-seller all over the world, enthralling its audience with a thrilling tale of love and adventure among the exotic tribes of Indians in what was still a wilderness which few had seen.  Although the book has become antiquated the story and its heroes endure and will hopefully do so for many years to come but it has to be said that in this day and age the film is far superior to the original historical novel.
As the film begins and even before the credits come up, drumming can be heard in the background becoming louder and louder and rising to a crescendo when the film opens onto the mountainous scene before us. Think ' Ravel's Bolero' and you have some idea of the stunning beginning to Mohicans and throughout the film the music of Randy Edelman, Clannad and Daniel Lenois is a feature of the film, changing the mood from foreboding to exultation to sadness as required.
Central to the story are Hawkeye {played superbly by Daniel day-Lewis}, Chingachgook

{Russell Means} and Uncas (Eric Schweig} who are free spirits in the forests of New York State,1757, where the French and British are fighting it out for possession of America and subsequently Canada. The historical and geographic backdrop could hardly be better to tell the story of Hawkeye's love for Cora {Madeleine Stowe providing some great action scenes set against the rugged beauty of the woods and waterfalls of Carolina complementing the real events which took place.
The battle for Fort William Henry is a brilliant re-enactment of the French siege and is quite detailed down to the mortars which the French used to good effect, the letter which went astray and the non-appearance of General Webb.  The Marquis de Montcalm {who was to die three years later at The Heights of Abraham } was generous in allowing the British to keep their colors and leave the fort with dignity intact.  Montcalm was not to know that his gesture was to have unfortunate consequences by at the hands of his disgruntled Hurons who melted into the woods.  The ensuing massacre as the Huron attack the British in a picturesque meadow is one of the most gripping scenes in the film and a graphic account of an historically factual event. The Huron were essentially a peaceful people but from the days of Champlain they had been cultivated by the French for their skills in trapping and pathfinding which was eventually to bring about their downfall at the hands of the Iroquois who fought for the British.
Peaceful nation or not, Magua the Huron is vengeance personified - cruel, without an ounce of compassion or humanity he is the epitome of savagery in his implacable hatred of Colonel Munro. Wes Studi was made for this role - he has done nothing before or after to equal his part in this film - he is Magua. Despite the formidable presence of Daniel-Day Lewis and all the other players the part of Magua is pervasive throughout the film -you just can't take your eyes off him.
Just as the beginning of the film demands your attention the finale is just as memorable in a bloody fight to the finish upon a cliff top where Cora loses her sister and Hawkeye loses his brother in the conclusion to a fascinating film.
Without the music Mohicans would be a tremendous film by any standards -add the perfect background music which the Director has utilised to perfection and you have a tour de force in the illustrious career of Michael Mann and the rarity of cinema as a true art form.
The Many Mutinies On The Bounty
The power of the cinema to promulgate myths which resonate for years and never really go away even after they have been brought into the light of reason has never been more illustrated than by the character demolition of Captain Bligh.  Bligh was never more or less a disciplinarian than his fellow Captains in the Royal Navy, he was highly respected by Lord Nelson, was one of his Band of Brothers and had voyaged extensively throughout the world without a single blemish to his name prior to the Bounty. During the voyage to Tahiti it is well documented that Bligh did his best to attend to the welfare of his crew and although he had a blistering tongue ordered floggings only as a last resource.  It is largely forgotten that after Bligh was set adrift in a longboat many of his officers joined him voluntarily and he brought them to safety across 3,500 miles of ocean in a feat of navigation unparallelled to this day.  The truth of the Bounty mutiny is that after the cold and damp of England, the rigid rigours of ship-board life and the social constrictions of their homeland the crew of the Bounty must have thought they had died and gone to heaven in the sunshine of Tahiti.  Allied to the casual sexual habits of the beautiful Tahitian girls and the slackening of the routine of work is it any wonder that many of them did not wish to return to the harshness of their lives. If Bligh was guilty of anything it was in allowing the crew to taste too many of these forbidden fruits.
Much of the Bligh myth can be laid at the feet of two ex First World War fighter pilots who wrote a trilogy about the Bounty in the early 1920's which became a best-seller at the time  but is now out of print. James Nordhoff and Charles Hall wrote their entirely fictional book through the eyes of a mutineer in such a way that it appeared to be his true version of events.  The story was writtenin such an authentic and documentary fashion that it became an accepted truth spread by word of mouth from those who had read the novel to those who were too lazy to do so.  Matters might have ended there and the fiction may have dissolved in time if it had not been for a Hollywood version of the book which copied each chapter to the letter. Even before anyone saw the finished movie the very casting automatically relegated Captain Bligh to the villain and Fletcher Christian to the hero -even his name has a heroic ring to it. While Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh was highly entertaining it was
a gross distortion of the character of the real Bligh and gave him not one redeeming quality.  On the ther hand, Clark Gable's ever cheerful and twinkly-eyed Christian made the mutineer out to be somewhere between Billy Graham and Saint Peter. But audiences everywhere loved it and throughout the Western world The Mutiny on the Bounty, Hollywood style, became the true and definitive version of a historical event.
Nordhoff and Hall wrote another book {again out of print} -this time more loosely based on incidents in the South Seas in the early part of century. It did however follow faithfully the same theme as Mutiny in that there was an overbearing martinet played by Raymond Massey and an innocent islander as the subject of his wrath. There was little to distinguish them from Bligh and Christian, but this time redemption was the final theme when the heroic islander saves the life of Massey's wife. The native was played by Jon Hall in a very enjoyable black and white called The Hurricane -well worth seeing if you ever get an opportunity.
Do these mangled histories really matter ? Hollywood in the main doesn't care, apart from the exceptional director who will research the subject diligently. But I believe that it matters and I believe that if you set about making a film about historic incidents then you should be at pains to ensure that all the facts are presented as honestly as possible.
It has to be said that most of the historical movies emanating from Hollywood have rewritten history freely and indiscriminately and with a very broad brush and given half the chance, Hollywood will go for the lurid and salacious and heroic but the paradox is that real life contains more of all these elements than any screenwriter can dream up.
Mutiny on the Bounty {1935}  [Director : Frank Lloyd
The movie was made in black and white and the theme throughout is also painted in black and white so that Bligh { Charles Laughton } is bad, Christian { Clark Gable } is good and the crew are all jolly tars.  The pretentious essay at the beginning, written in what passes for Olde English script, states pompously that the events to follow improved the British Navy - just how that happened is never explained.
Right from the beginning, Bligh's name is touted as being feared throughout the navy and even before the ship sails Bligh orders a flogging to be carried out even though  the sailor is dead !
Christian, all cheery charm and bonhomie unsuccessfully tries to stop the sadistic Bligh sending a midshipman aloft in a gale and the next day Bligh orders a keel-hauling even though the practice had been banned years previously.
Floggings take place daily with the inference that Bligh would flog the ship's cat if it purred.
In between being flogged, keelhauled and sent up the mast in gales, Bligh is also systematically starving the crew to death having allegedly left most of the ship's stores in his pantry before the Bounty sailed.
Throughout a program of sadism which would have made the Marquis de Sade proud, Christian retains his boyish grin and the crew are as jolly as can be. They are all made even jollier when they arrive at Tahiti and find a bevy of Hollywood beauties all in soft focus, fresh from the casting couch and sporting sarongs from Fredricks. So, now we have Fletcher Christian, the crew and the whole of Tahiti versus Captain Bligh.
Anyway, the crew have the time of their lives  but somehow or other the job of collecting breadfruit plants is finally finished, in which time Christian has become a father, which was a good trick considering the ship only stayed 5 months.  Finally the monstrous Bligh orders the crew back on ship to carry out their mission and surprise, surprise nobody wants to go  and the impasse culminates in Christian and his mates taking the ship and sailing away leaving Bligh in an open boat 3500 miles from home.  A few minutes later and Bligh has fetched up back in England where he is immediately ordered to return on The Pandora to capture the mutineers - in reality, a Captain Edwards commanded The Pandora, and Bligh stayed in England.

At the trial, in the final scenes and true to his character, Bligh is spitting venom, while Christian's Dad expresses outrage which was an even better trick than Christian's premature love-child considering he had been dead for the previous fifteen years. 
There is some irony in the fact that in real life Charles Laughton was disliked by Gable who was averse to working with homosexuals (one wonders why), but even more ironic is that so many film critics voted  Mutiny on The Bounty the Best Picture Oscar for 1935.

Mutiny on the Bounty {1962 } Director :  Lewis Milestone
This version was hardly worth bothering with because it added little to the Gable film apart from being filmed in glorious Technicolour.  In fact the film may not be in black and white but the portrayal of the characters certainly is with Bligh even more inhumane and sadistic and Fletcher Christian is so "good" that he might as well have donned a white stetson - even that would not have been out of place among the bizarre outfits he wears, presumably borrowed from Liberace's wardrobe.
The casting of Brando in the role of Fletcher Christian is a blatant example of utilising a top Hollywood name to sell a film and the result is nothing less than hilarious -Brando's Christian is a parody with his foppish mannerisms and his odd accent which may have impressed American audiences but is straight out of the Dick Van Dyke school of elocution which also left British audiences in howls of laughter.  It's difficult to believe that this is the same man who left us in awe as
The Godfather.
Trevor Howard's Bligh is the same old tired caricature of the underhanded, devious, cruel and inflexible sadist who is unique among men in having not one redeeming quality.
The opening paragraph of this page states that one of the main reasons why the crew of the Bounty mutinied was the allure of the beautiful and amoral island girls so it is a supreme irony that Brando himself fell for his co-star Tarita and they subsequently married.
In a memorable feat of the director's art, Lewis Milestone has gathered together a crew of excellent character actors, including Richard Harris, and turned them into a crew who would have been more at home in The Pirates of Penzance.  The best thing that can be said about the whole thing is that the scenery is good.

Mutiny on the Bounty {1983 } Director : Roger Donaldson
The last Bounty film to date was at the opposite end of the spectrum in it's depiction of the famous story and gave a far more balanced and coherent view of events. The film unfolds with Bligh {Anthony Hopkins} at his own court martial, narrating his version of how the ship came to be taken, to a formidable Edward Fox presiding, alongside Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood. As Bligh tells his tale, flashbacks illustrate any discrepancies in his story and Hopkins fleshes out the character of Captain Bligh, subtly illustrating the many facets of this complex character. The one-dimensional view of the man as a monster and a bully is put to rest as the film probes the reasons for the mutiny. A combination of many factors led to the mutiny, with Bligh vainly trying to keep control of events  - intelligent enough to realise that they were spiralling out of his control but unable to prevent them.
Before reaching the Pacific, his officers, who should be his greatest allies, are shown to be less than dependable. His second in command, Fryer {Daniel Day-Lewis} is openly insubordinate and disliked by crew and fellow officers alike and the surgeon turns out to be a habitual drunkard.
Fletcher Christian {Mel Gibson}, as always, is played as a handsome, well-rounded-fellow, popular with his fellow officers and crew alike. There is a great deal of truth in this but what is never stated is that Christian was immensely strong and athletic which alone would have won him a great deal of respect.  He had sailed with Bligh before and under his tutelage had risen to become a well-respected officer.  He took Fryer's place as second in command and Fryer never forgave Bligh.
Throughout the voyage, Bligh tries to look after his crew and occasionally wins them over but a major watershed in their indiscipline is Bligh's intractable and stubborn resolve to shorten the voyage by rounding the horn. After thirty days of incessant storms they are forced to go via The Cape of Good Hope.  Bligh's reputation is diminished by this incident more than any other but what the crew were never aware of was the Admiralty's dilatory manning of the ship had caused them to set sail far later than anticipated.
Eventually reaching Tahiti, they spent from October 1788 to April 1789 {a total of 23 weeks} potting and loading the breadfruit plants. In all this time, the crew were exposed to what must have seemed like heaven on earth with sunshine, freedom from duty and best of all the bare-breasted and free-wheeling sexual attitudes of the flirtatious Tahitian girls and unsurprisingly they did not want to leave.
The indolent days spent in Tahiti went to make up an unhappy group of sailors when they were forced to return to their duties and the ship sailed away. Bligh's dignity had been eroded by the nature of the natives and his authority had been eroded accordingly as he attempted to bring his crew back into line. Christian had always been an ally but he now found himself in the unenviable position of attempting to carry out Bligh's orders while maintaining his popularity among the lower decks. His was a classic case of having authority over men and being one of them at the same time. As a result, Christian became highly stressed. Driven by Bligh, manipulated by the crew and the siren call of the island all proved too much for Christian and his stress levels became so intolerable that he finally snapped.
His hysterical screams of " I have been in Hell " as Bligh pleads for sanity tell it all.
The film is a great adventure story with Hopkins making a great Bligh. Mel Gibson is excellent as the bewildered Christian and the supporting cast with many British actors making up the crew are top-rate.  The crew are a far cry from the stereotypical 1935 and 1962 versions and Liam Neeson, etc go to make up a glorious gathering of villains.
Proves the case that you can make an exciting, colourful, adventure film and not deviate from the known historical facts.

Small Island (2009) Director; John Alexander
When a film never makes it to the cinema and goes straight to DVD the common perception is that it is not good enough, but that's not always the case and is certainly not true when applied to Small Island.  With a stellar cast which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyewelo who went on to star as Martin Luther King in Selma, Naomie Harris who later played Winnie Mandela in Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom and the brilliant but strangely under-rated Ruth Wilson, added to a superb storyline, the reason for Small Islands' non-appearance on cinema screens would seem to be the 3 hour-long running time.  Anyway, I have included it here because it is an exceptional film and deserves to be far better known.
The film is a faithful reproduction of Andrea Levy's acclaimed novel of the same name which in turn was inspired by the author's parents' experiences when they first came to England from Jamaica.  Readers of a certain age will recall that the post-war England of ration-books, coal-fires and austerity was a grey place where men and women weaved their way between bombed debris' as they picked up the pieces of their broken lives.  When the Empire Windrush first sailed from Jamaica to England in 1948, bringing a cargo of 500 Jamaicans to fill the gaps left by those who never returned from the war, it should have been a cause for rejoicing, but it turned out to be anything but.  The Jamaican emigrants themselves were full of high hopes and high expectations of a motherland that they had only read about in books but their dreams were soon to be shattered when they encountered a racism that was totally unexpected.
Racism in post-war England was never proportionate to South African apartheid or the segregation practised in the Southern States of America but it was endemic throughout society and apparent in many aspects of life - black people were only considered fit for menial work, a white woman walking with a black man would automatically be branded a "tart," and the infamous signs in guest houses NO DOGS, NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, were not just figments of the imagination.  Given that many of the Jamaicans who arrived in this country had fought in the war and had been a part of the Commonwealth for centuries, it was a source of deep shame that the British were so unwelcoming and much of the book and film is given over to the bewilderment of the newcomers at their hostile reception.  Quite why the British were so racist at that time is not explored by Andrea Levy but the fact that British ships had transported black Africans in their millions to the West Indies and the Southern plantations of America as slaves over a period of over 150 years from 1650 to 1808 may go some way to explaining their ingrained racism - although 150 years later attitudes should surely have changed ? 
Although racism is a theme of  Small Island it is far more than just that and is essentially concentrated upon two different cultures coming together as they both attempt to build new lives out of the rubble of bombed-out London.  There are inevitably love affairs and clashes and Andrea Levy has captured the era exactly as it was - I know because I was there - and the descendants of any black people in England today should be proud of the courage and resilience of their ancestors who came here with such high expectations.  As far as racism goes now, although there will always be those whose ignorance outmatches their intellect, England is a far different place from those post-war grey days, and by and large has slowly eradicated the racism of the past.
Both Andrea Levy's book and the film are excellent and it is simply a matter of choice as to which genre you choose - however, the book does explore each character more in depth than the film and explains why they act in the manner that they do.  I watched the film and read the book which is the best of both worlds.   
Although slavery in America ended in 1865 following the bloody five years of the Civil War, racism remained endemic throughout the southern states where  Abolition was one thing but integration was quite another.  The black population had won their freedom but it was only a freedom of sorts and they soon found themselves relegated to the role of second class citizens, barred from the same privileges that the white population enjoyed, particularly where housing and employment were concerned.  The two-tier system remained in place for years after the Civil War until in 1896, what had previously been  subversionary, became an overt declaration of intent when the Supreme Court declared segregation to be lawful.  It is a sobering thought that it was all of 100 years after the Civil War that segregation was abolished (1954), followed by the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960's , which eventually brought about true integration of blacks and whites in America. 
While segregation was about to come to an end in one part of the world, it was just beginning in another when the South African National Party legalised apartheid in 1948, possibly using segregation in America as a template.  As odious as segregation was in America its counterpart in South Africa was a far more severe version - harsh and rigidly maintained laws encompassed every part of the lives of the black population where humiliation was an everyday occurrence and even minor infractions often led to beatings; it was in fact that widespread cruelty which brought down the regime.  
Naturally, the book which has the same title as the film is more detailed running to over 500 pages with more than 200 of those detailing Mandela's 28 years incarcerated on Robben Island.  Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013) saw himself as a freedom fighter and as a leader of the African National Congress was subject to being watched constantly by the Afrikaan authorities eventually leading to his imprisonment. 
However, while he was in custody, the fight against apartheid went on and it was in great part Mandela's sentence which drew the world's attention to the harshness of the regime and his eventual martyrdom  on behalf of the Rainbow Nation.  There is a great deal of detail concerning Afrikaan politics of the era but Mandela's sincerity and humilty shines through as a life well-lived.
Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom (2013); Director; Justin Chadwick
"I have walked a long walk to freedom. It has been a lonely road, and it is not over yet. I know that my country, was not made to be a land of hatred. No one is born hating another person because the color of his skin. People learn to hate. They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart."
 The film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long but by omitting many of the political details and keeping the years of Mandela's incarceration to a minimum, the Director has succeeeded in relating Mandela's lifestory as it is written in the book.  Within the pages of the book Nelson Mandela has understandably played down Winnie Mandela's reputation as a political activist with a reputation for instigating violence and the film differs slightly by including several sequences of her overseeing riots and killing.  Although Winnie's story is another tale altogether, by including her rebellious attitude to apartheid in which she urges blacks to take up arms agains their oppressor, it emphasises the counterpoint of Mandela's peaceful approach; the film takes pains to illustrate how Mandela's years of meditation behind bars led him to believe that forgiveness and fellowship were the only way forward for South Africa and he is rightly venerated for preventing a civil war and the bloodbath which would have followed.  In 1990, F.W. de Klerk began the process of dismantling apartheid and it was quite remarkable that the dreadful social experiment began and ended within the lifetime of Nelson Mandela. 
Naomie Harris is outstanding as Winnie Mandela among a mainly African cast but Idris Elba is a revelation as Nelson Mandela in a role which he will find difficult to surpass. 
The Legend of Tarzan   Director David Yates (2016)
If you refer to the final comment on Tarzan films above, you will see that I was awaiting someone to pick up the Tarzan baton once again - and lo and behold somebody has done so.  I also said that one of the great failings of any Tarzan movie was the lack of realism in the animals but the advent of CGI would ensure that any forthcoming films would solve that problem as it has done with so many other films.  So, it comes of something of a surprise that the first critic (Daily Express) to take up his pen said : "Look back to any of those Weismulller films from the 1930's and you feel the crocodile could snap off your leg or that the lion's roar could deafen you - they felt very real.  However, everything here is crafted by computers and doesn't carry the same  authenticity."   It is an incredible criticism and adds fuel to the suspicion that critics are deliberately perverse in order to justify their own existence.  The facts are that Johnny Weissmuller used to fight the same crocodile and lion in every film with material taken from stock film using model animals which looked like they were made on Blue Peter.  No matter how nostalgically I look back on my childhood hero there's no doubt that I suspended disbelief although I knew in my heart that I could have probably conquered the crocodile myself with its party-trick of rolling over and over again.  And you could always tell Clarence the cross-eyed lion who appeared in every film and looked about as dangerous as next door's cat.
However,  it is ironic that the CGI in The Legend of Tarzan is poor and is nowhere near the standard of most computer enhanced films of today and the film itself is quite a disappointment.  Alexander Skaarsgard just doesn't have the gravitas to play Tarzan and in his cut-down pants looks nothing like the ape-man.  He is also just too nice and never reverts to the animalistic Tarzan when he re-enters his jungle home; added to that the African tribesmen are also too nice and none of them are the fearsome warriors they are meant to represent.  In fact, Tarzan is so nice that he allows Christophe Waltz and Samuel L.Jackson to steal every scene.  Sad to say, but after 32 years since Christopher Lambert played Tarzan and even with the advantage of CGI this portrayal of the fabled ape-man is nowhere near as good as Greystoke.   The Director never comes close to capturing the essence of Tarzan who at heart is a fearsome beast of the forest, and he never gets near to the world of lost worlds, bloodthirsty natives, dizzying escarpements and misty, mossy, fearful jungles where danger lurks at every turn.  One day someone will capture the real Tarzan but although it may be entertaining in places this effort falls a long way short.

Tarzan by Burne Hogarth
The Mountain Between Us   (20 17)  Director  Hany Abu-Assad                
I read the novel by Charles Martin before I saw the picture and while it never approaches any of the above volumes for excellence, it remains a good read and an engrossing story.  The narrative is simple,  with two strangers Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Cate Winslet) thrown together when their plane crashes, in a fight for survival in a mountainous and freezing wilderness, miles from anywhere.   With Alex severely injured, it takes all of Ben's skills as a doctor, with few medical supplies, to keep her alive and as they spend nights huddled together for warmth, along with the pilot's dog which also survived, inevitably their life-stories unfold.  Within the pages of the book, Alex is severely injured for most of the time, and unable to walk she is totally dependent on Ben for everything.   With such a huge responsibility thrown onto his shoulders Ben becomes ever more resilient and uses his ingenuity and will-power to find food, make fire, provide shelter, protect the pair from wild animals and finally pull Alex to safety using a litter he has made.  Although there is a love-story between Alex and Ben, the emphasis of the book is on the primeval will to survive and the male instinct to protect the female, especially when, in this case, Alex is totally helpless for much of the time.  Although the film was more physically demanding than his role as Nelson Mandela, Idris Elba's acting skills are not required too much here.

The problem that the Director faced when translating the novel into a film was that if Alex was disabled for most of the time, then it would not leave Cate Winslet with much of a role.  It's quite understandable, therefore, that he has Alex recovering reasonably quickly so that she can take part in more of the action.  However, by making the pair more of a partnership, the Director has removed the core of the novel, which may have feminists cheering but has altered the story radically. 
The element that the film contains but the novel doesn't is the awe-inspiring scenery and cinematography - nevertheless, I enjoyed the book more than the film, but you might think differently especially if you like romantic endings.