Friday, December 11, 2015

Movie review - "The Queen's Guards" (1961) **

A rare Michael Powell film that film buffs tend to ignore, along with Honeymoon and The Boy Who Turned Yellow - in part because it was so hard to see for a long time. His most financially successful films of the 1950s had been war movies - Ill Met by Moonlight and especially The Battle of the River Plate - so many he felt he had to make this to keep "in" with the public. Only thing is, it's not based on a historical story, or even a novel - it's an original fictional account of a guards regiment. (It's not that original though - it's full of tropes familiar from other war movies such as The Four Feathers.)

The movie has all sorts of problems. Daniel Massey lacks star power in the Dirk Bogarde-esque role as a young soldier who flashes back throughout the film. It is kind of cool to see him act opposite his real life father Raymond Massey, who plays his father on screen, and Massey senior hams it up in a decent C Aubrey Smith impersonation (the scenes where he drunkenly craps on about how great his dead son was is very reminiscent of Four Feathers).

Secondly, the film lacks historical context. It's set in 1960 - the opening credits make that very clear - but nothing else is. Massey goes off to fight in a battle that takes place in a fictitious Arabic country against some browned up English actors pretending to be Arabs. It reminded me of those make up conflicts that they used to shove into old 30s melodramas set in the British raj like The Last Outpost or Another Dawn. But its 1960 now - there's no love triangle - audiences deserve a bit more reality. I don't know why they just didn't make it Oman or Malaya.

Thirdly it's just dull. The conflict between Massey and his overbearing hammy father is alright but overdone. The secret of his brother is not that intriguing. There's an undeveloped romance. And the action scenes at the end are boring.

The best thing about it are some of the visuals - the red of the guards uniforms and the trooping of the colour. But if any movie showed how much Powell relied on Emeric Pressburger, it was this one.

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