To be honest, I struggled with ‘K’. I had some ideas of course, as one ‘K’ film had recently featured in my Top Ten of all time. It goes without saying that this will be my top pick today, but what of the other suggestions?
Two British films start this look at ‘K’, and they are very different from each other. ‘The Killing of Sister George’ (1968) is an adaptation of an earlier stage play. On first sight, it may not appear to be anything special. It is mainly set in the bitchy world of TV production, with ‘Sister George’ being the elderly character of a nurse, in a much-loved soap opera. The killing referred to is the intention of the programme makers to write her out of the script, as they are tired of not only the character, but the unreliable old actress who plays the part. However, the film’s central theme is actually about obsessive lesbian love, and features a relationship triangle between the elderly actress, her attractive younger lover, and the lustful lesbian TV executive who desires her. The cast is top notch. Sister George is played by Beryl Reid, someone mainly known for comedy roles. Her girlfriend is a seductive ‘innocent’, perfectly delivered by Susannah York. And the wonderful Coral Browne all but steals the film, with her simmering turn as the lecherous producer. An unusual subject, and superb British drama.
An unhappy working class boy from an abusive home, and a Kestrel. Again, this doesn’t sound like much. But add British film-maker Ken Loach, and a standout performance by the young David Bradley, film it in authentic locations in northern England, and you have a film rated in the top ten by the British Film Institute, ‘Kes’ (1969). This poignant tale of a misunderstood boy and his love for a bird of prey is simply unforgettable. Stalwart character acting from Lynn Perrie, Brian Glover, and Colin Welland add a documentary feel to this realistic British classic.
Hungary doesn’t feature much in the choices of many film fans. ‘Name one Hungarian film’ would be a good question for a quiz night. But I would name one, without hesitation. ‘Kontroll’ (2003) might be the only film ever made about ticket inspectors on an underground railway system. I know of no others myself. But this one is a complete delight. The hapless team of inspectors on Budapest’s subway system are a disparate band, with a thankless job. Nobody likes them, and the passengers’ antics to avoid paying drive them to distraction. This film is often very amusing, and you will be drawn into the different teams of ticket inspectors, I assure you. But it has a darker side too, with a mystery killer stalking the railway tracks, murdering people by pushing them under trains, to make it look like suicide.
Over to America, and a crop of notable films beginning with ‘K’. The crime thriller ‘Klute’ (1971) is an excellent example of a crisply delivered modern film noir. Alan J. Pakula teams up Donald Sutherland as the titular detective, alongside an on-form Jane Fonda, as the cynical call-girl, Bree Daniels. Klute is a small-town cop, hired by a rich family to investigate the unexplained disappearance of a top executive. At first, the rather gormless Klute is out of his depth in the big city, and when he tracks down Bree, she plays him for all she is worth. But the tension builds as they discover more about the shady dealings and corruption behind the disappearance, and the twists and turns guarantee that the viewer is firmly hooked. Fonda won the Best Actress Oscar for this film, and you will see why. Sutherland gives one of his best performances as the confused investigator, and Roy Scheider features too, as a suitably unlikable pimp. I really recommend this one.
Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, and a wonderfully manic Sandra Bernhard. What a cast! Add direction from the talented Martin Scorsese, and you have the tragically overlooked yet fine drama from 1982, ‘The King of Comedy’. Although set in the world of professional comedians, this is a long way from being a comedy film. I have seen it described as a ‘black comedy’, but I would rate it as great drama. The unsuccessful comedian Rupert Pupkin will do anything to get a break. He pesters his comedy idol, Jerry Langford (Lewis) to give him a short spot on a popular TV show. But when that fails, he enlists the help of another obsessive, Masha, (Bernhard) who is madly in love with Jerry. Together, they hatch a plot to kidnap the star, with Masha achieving her dream of a date with him, and Rupert demanding his own one-off show as a ransom for his release. This is a very different film. Full of pathos and tragedy, with an outstanding performance from De Niro against type.
I should also briefly mention both versions of ‘The Killers.’ The 1946 original, and the later 1964 remake are both as good as each other, and tell an identical story, with a very slight alteration. When two professional killers are hired to kill a mild-mannered man, they are surprised by the job, and by the way the man stands and accepts his fate. They decide to investigate the ‘hit’, and the films tell the story in flashback. The first film gave the lead role to Burt Lancaster, and a similar character is played by John Cassavetes, in the remake. As the main killer, you have the choice of William Conrad in 1946, and Lee Marvin in the later version. Femme fatales are supplied by Ava Gardner and Angie Dickinson, respectively. Hard to choose, so just watch them both.
As I am on the theme of killers, I cannot leave out the very unusual hit-man film from Ben Wheatley, ‘Kill List’ (2011). This British crime thriller is a great deal more, descending into a psychological mind-bender that will both amaze and confuse as is goes on. With a convincing central performance from Neil Maskell, and authentic location filming too, this is a film that will grow on you, and is never quite what it seems.
A long post today, so here is my final film, and my top choice. I have written about it many times before, so will keep it short. From my favourite director, Akira Kurosawa, this stunning historical epic took my breath away in the cinema, and holds a rightful place in my top ten of all time.
‘Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior’ (1980). Simply amazing visuals, and an intricate plot too.