Free to air
NO one makes westerns any more — not the oldfashioned sort, with the emphasis on action and shootouts. The classic Hollywood western reached a high point with The Magnificent Seven, after which the anti-western was born – unglamorous, unheroic and a typical product of the 1960s, which gave us The Misfits and Lonely are the Brave. The best anti-western was Hud (Sunday, 11.50pm, ABC1), with Paul Newman as a lazy, avaricious and irresponsible ne’er-do-well who prefers the life of a Texas playboy to that of a hardworking Texas rancher. Martin Ritt’s film broke new ground in demythologising the western traditions of heroism and pioneering fortitude. Elmer Bernstein wrote the score (he did the same for The Magnificent Seven) and there are fine performances from Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas as Hud’s estranged father. But it’s Newman’s film. The cinema’s most charismatic newcomer since James Dean never looked more unattractive and contemptible. Quite an achievement.
Speaking of dissolute playboys, I cite the case of Arthur Bach, played by Dudley Moore in Steve Gordon’s comedy Arthur (Sunday, 1pm, Nine), a cult hit in 1981. Arthur is set to marry his socialite fiancee (Jill Eikenberry) but falls for working girl Linda (a sparkling performance from Liza Minnelli). It’s a nice piece of escapist froth, helped along by some Burt Bacharach tunes, but the show-stealer is John Gielgud, happily slumming it as Arthur’s loyal but sarcastic manservant, for which he won an Oscar. Gielgud’s illustrious contemporary on the English stage, Laurence Olivier, plays the sadistic dentist in Marathon Man (Saturday, 8.30pm, ABC2), John Schlesinger’s brilliant, harrowing thriller about ex-Nazis searching for loot stolen from Jewish concentration camp victims. Olivier delivers a terrifying performance as Szell, the Nazi pseudo-dentist who tortures Dustin Hoffman. In his autobiography, Olivier described Marathon Man as a revivifying’’ experience, the beginning of his comeback after a debilitating illness, but had nothing to say about his character or why playing a sadistic torturer should have lifted his spirits.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Tuesday, 12.20am, ABC1) is a classic product of the writer-director partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. This wise and humane film is the story of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), a stuffy British officer, and the women in his life (all played by Deborah Kerr). Winston Churchill considered it detrimental to the morale of the army’’ and prohibited its exportation during World War II. But he couldn’t ban it in Britain, where it became a hit during the war. Heavily cut for its eventual release in the US (and Australia), it was restored by Britain’s National Film Archive and re-released in 1986. A masterpiece. ★★★★★ Tuesday, 12.20am, ABC1
(M) ★★★ ✩ Sunday, 11.50pm, ABC1
Best on show
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, ABC2