Eight Legged Freaks<br></br> The Quiet American <br></br> The Ladykillers <br></br> La Spagnola <br></br> The Wash

By Anthony Quinn
Thursday 30 January 2014 04:46

Are you feeling shortchanged by Men in Black II? You might want to try Eight Legged Freaks, a creature-feature that harks back to B-movie horrors of the Fifties such as Them! and beefs up the show with modern special effects. A toxic accident outside a small Arizona town has spawned giant, flesh-eating spiders that are now terrorising the population. Leading the running and screaming are David Arquette as the hero who's returned after a 10-year absence, his one-time flame (now police sheriff) Kari Wuhrer, her daughter (Scarlett Johansson) and son (Scott Terra), an insect expert whose early warnings about the "arachnattack" were ignored, as genre convention dictates: the kid is always ignored.

Also poised to say "I told you so" is a conspiracy theorist DJ (Doug E Doug) who has been predicting an alien invasion for years and dreads an "anal probe" above all things. The script depends on the cast keeping tongue firmly in cheek, and mixes crowd-pleasing standbys ("I think we should run now") with cursory nods to arachnoid mating games: did you know that the female spider is given "gifts" of live flesh by the male, carefully wrapped in gauzy webbing for extra chewiness? Eight Legged Freaks is celluloid fast food: virtually taste-free but often with a nasty repeat.

It was one of Graham Greene's professional misfortunes to see his novels twisted and traduced by film adapters, and The Quiet American (1955) is an egregious example. The book came out of his experiences as a correspondent in Indo-China, and, as always with Greene, its anti-American bias is unignorable – unless, that is, you happen to be an American, in which case you can parlay a warning about righteous American idealism into a warning about emergent communism in Vietnam. That's what Joseph L Mankiewicz did with this 1958 adaptation, though it has its merits, starting with Robert Krasker's photography of humid Saigon (he also shot The Third Man). Michael Redgrave as the nonaligned English correspondent Fowler is superb, a man pickled in cynicism but comfortably attached to his much younger mistress, Phuong (Giorgia Moll), whom he treats almost as a servant.

This domestic complacency is shattered when the clean-cut American, Pyle (Audie Murphy) begins courting her affections and nettling Fowler with his unworldly ideas of fair play. Even his generosity annoys him: "I asked for one cigarette, not economic aid," he snarls after Pyle hands him a whole packet. War hero though he was, Murphy doesn't bring much range or colour to the title role, but it's not his fault Mankiewicz has softpedalled the character's naïve political involvement. The brittle comedy of the early scenes (NB a beauty where Fowler helps translate Pyle's attempts to woo his mistress) gives way to a confusing and talky second half in which Fowler's struggle with his conscience is played off against a police inspector's suspicions of his wrongdoing. Suspense leaks away, and Greene's irony – not to mention his prescience – go to waste.

Six Ealing comedies are re-released this week in celebration of the Studio's 100th anniversary, and leading the pack is The Ladykillers (1955), an exuberant murder caper that points, like The Quiet American, to the dangers of innocence. Alec Guinness, with hideous false teeth and vampire eyes, shoulders the major comic load as a criminal mastermind overseeing a robbery beneath the genteel cover of an old lady's boarding house. The joke is that it's not the police but the old lady (Katie Johnson) who frustrates him and his gang, first with her maddening offers of tea and unstoppable chattiness, then by her principled resolve to see justice done. The scene in which she recalls how her 21st-birthday party was cut short by the news of Queen Victoria's death is a miniature of irrelevance, and its baffling effect on the robbers is priceless. The mischief of the denouement is a little broadly played, but why pick faults? This is a nugget from a golden age.

Imagine one of Almodovar's hysterical "wronged" women transplanted to a dusty suburb of Sixties Australia and you're close to the drift of La Spagnola. Lola (Lola Marceli) is a beautiful Spanish immigrant burning for vengeance on a "whistling rat" of a husband who's stolen her savings and left her to raise their teenage daughter Lucia (Alice Ansara). The tone is one of rollicking desperation as Lola scrapes the rent together by allowing various men in her bed, while the watchful Lucia bridles under her mother's dominion and makes her own tentative steps towards adult sexuality. The first-time director Steve Jacobs has a bold compositional style and an Almodovarean sense of colour (sickly greens, arterial reds), but despite good performances from his two leads one never feels any great involvement; the strain of fiery Hispanic unreason feels accurate but offers little in the way of dramatic subtlety.

"Uncouth" would be a polite word for The Wash, a so-called comedy starring rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre as a couple of pals who work at the local carwash. Even their most passionate admirers will have to concede that neither of them has much of a comic presence, and a script that depends heavily on the words "motherfucker" and "nigga" doesn't help their cause. That it was written, directed and produced by a DJ Pooh should be sufficient warning.

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