Producer Samuel Goldwyn turned author James Thurber’s short story into a marvellous Technicolored cavalcade for his star signing, Danny Kaye, allowing Kaye to play both the daydreaming Mitty and the amazingly heroic characters of his fantasies. Kaye’s on top form here, as a surgeon performing a near-impossible operation, an ace gunslinger (the “Perth Amboy Kid”) and a pernickety RAF pilot, among others. The energetic star is not so popular today, perhaps because his modern-set movies have worn less well than his period ones, but this is generally acknowledged to be his finest screen performance and is certainly his most endearing. There’s marvellous support from the great Boris Karloff as a homicidal psychiatrist and wonderful songs from Sylvia Fine (Mrs Kaye), notably the classic Anatole of Paris. Trivia nuts should watch out for future director Robert Altman as an extra in the “Symphony for Unstrung Tongues” number. Children seem to relate to this movie more than adults, which is a pity, for there’s more than a little of Walter Mitty in all of us.
Brendan Gleeson excels as an antihero in this caustic buddy-cop drama set in the wild west of Ireland. He’s foul-mouthed police sergeant Gerry Boyle, who thinks nothing of swallowing the odd dodgy pill lifted from a crash victim’s pocket, or taking a day off to visit prostitutes. But a murder, a drug-smuggling ring and the arrival of strait-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) disrupts his easy life. It’s sharply written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (and nicely photographed in drizzly greys and greens) but this is really Gleeson’s show. Though in many ways he’s a dreadful policeman, he does gradually reveal a robust moral code and some deeper humanity in touching scenes with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan). “I don’t know if you’re really smart or really stupid,” Everett remarks at one point; an apt summary of a fascinating, darkly funny character who keeps everyone guessing to the very end, and beyond.
For the first hour or so, this 18th Bond movie is up there with the best of them: it has terrific pace, Pierce Brosnan has romantic and rough-house appeal, Teri Hatcher is a match for him, and the post-Cold War story has grip and even plausibility. Sadly, the second half doesn’t quite sustain the momentum: the story moves from Europe to Asia (back to the locations of The Man with the Golden Gun) and Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul makes a pathetically unthreatening villain whose motto is “There’s no news like bad news”. Flaws aside, this was at the time the best Bond movie since the heyday of Mr Connery.
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