Rocky (1976, John G Avildsen)

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A series of reviews looking at Sylvester Stallone’s two most famous characters, Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, film by film…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Small-time boxer Rocky Balboa is offered the chance to take on the world champion…

What does Stallone do? Wanting to give his career a kick-start, struggling actor Sylvester Stallone wrote a script inspired by a no-hoper boxer who nearly lasted the distance with Muhammad Ali in March 1975. Selling the project to United Artists, he insisted that he play the lead role himself and this was the start of Stallone the movie star. Nevertheless, his persona in this film is quieter and far more downtrodden than he later became; it’s actually a decent job of acting. Rocky Balboa (aka the Italian Stallion) is a young guy from Philadelphia, scraping a living from fighting in poorly paid boxing bouts and carrying out strongarm work for a puffed-up gangster. Crucially, he’s not an out-and-out crook – early on, we see him defy his boss and *not* break someone’s thumb. We also feel for Rocky when he’s given just $40 for a bruising fight or when he loses his locker at the local gym or when he sweetly flirts with a woman he fancies. He’s a nice guy, if rough round the edges. The character is then offered the chance of a lifetime: to fight the world heavyweight champion in a title bout. (Unbeknownst to Rocky, the champ has picked him from obscurity simply because he likes his nickname.)

Other main characters:
* Rocky’s love interest, Adrianna ‘Adrian’ Pennino, is played by Talia Shire (then most notable for her role in The Godfather series). When we meet her, she’s a meek, nervous, glasses-wearing singleton in a cardi who works at a pet shop. Rocky flirts with her and their slow-burn, underplayed romance takes up a big section of the movie’s middle third.
* Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) runs Rocky’s local gym and has a 50-year career in boxing. He’s rude and mean towards Rocky – but we eventually realise it’s down to frustration. Mickey thinks Rocky has the talent to be successful but wastes his time working for a loan shark. When Rocky is offered a chance to fight the world champion, the gravelly-voiced and lopsided-faced Mickey offers to be his manager/trainer. He’s one of the great mentors in cinema, and Meredith brings plenty of soul to the part.
* Paulie Pennino (Burt Young) is Rocky’s pal and Adrian’s brother. A drunk and a dullard, he tries matchmaking Rocky with Adrian because she’s nearly 30 and he worries about her ending up alone.
* World heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) – a charismatic, verbose character fairly obviously based on Muhammad Ali – is preparing for a boxing bout to celebrate America’s bicentennial. But his opponent pulls out due to injury, so Apollo hits upon the PR-friendly idea of taking on a local unknown instead. Weathers is terrific, taking a thinly written character who doesn’t get much screentime and giving him so much pizzazz.

Key scene: The title bout, as Rocky goes 15 rounds with Apollo. There’s a remorseless volley of punches, sweat flying everywhere, the macabre moment when Rocky needs to have his bruised eyelid sliced open, and the euphoric ending that pulls an amazing trick of giving our lead character an emotional win despite him losing the fight on points. After the final bell, as Rocky calls out for his girlfriend – ‘Adrian! Adrian!’ – he doesn’t even listen to the result being announced. It was never about winning. Creed was just too good. It was about *not falling down*.

Review: At the Academy Awards ceremony on 28 March 1977, Rocky beat All the President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver to the Best Picture Oscar – that’s some company, and to be honest it’s difficult to argue that the conventional Rocky deserved the win. The narrative structure of a lowly hero who overcomes obstacles is as old as the hills and has a familiar Hollywood chime. But perhaps what appealed to the Academy voters the most was the grimy, cynical sense of realism. This story takes place in a cold, inner-city, working-class world of litter-strewn streets and flaking wallpaper and money problems. It’s shot in real locations and is not lit very prettily. Aside from the pointedly flashy Carl Weathers, the film is also stocked with characterful and ‘unattractive’ faces. All this makes the slightly implausible story – an unknown being given a shot at the big time – feel like something that could actually happen, while the script and Stallone’s unshowy performance really make you root for Rocky. Then once we enter the training scenes and especially the climactic bout, Bill Conti’s incidental music becomes more and more stirring and rousing and anthemic and you’re throwing and ducking every punch. It’s melodramatic, but you can’t take your eyes off it.

Eight raw eggs out of 10

Next time: Rocky II

Family Plot (1976)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When two con artists try to track down a missing heir, they come into contact with a pair of kidnappers…

Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, released when he was 76 years old, is a comedy thriller. Neither taking itself too seriously nor ever becoming too silly, it’s an entertaining couple of hours.  A lot of the enjoyment comes from watching omnisciently as two seemingly separate storylines slowly start to intertwine.

As we start, fake psychic Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is conning an elderly woman (Cathleen Nesbitt) with a cod séance routine. When the OAP mentions a long-lost nephew who would inherit a fortune, Blanche and boyfriend George offer to find him for a fee of $10,000. Meanwhile, another pair of criminals – Fran (played by the top-billed Karen Black) and her boyfriend, Arthur (William Devane) – are kidnapping VIPs and ransoming them for jewels.

The two sets of characters literally cross paths early on, when George nearly runs Fran over, but are otherwise discrete until the 45-minute mark… George has been following clues like a detective, trying to find the long-missing nephew. He talks to someone who knew him, then we see this old friend show up at Arthur’s office to tell him people are looking for him. That’s right: Arthur is the heir, but because he’s also a criminal he assumes Blanche and George asking questions about him must be bad news. The cat and mouse game is on.

Alfred Hitchcock was born just four years after the Lumière brothers invented the medium of cinema, and had been a film director for half a century when he made Family Plot. But here’s a movie that’s startlingly of the 1970s: the fashions, of course, and the cars and the also the style of filmmaking. Or rather not *film*making. The master’s final movie is surprisingly televisual. It’s very talky. There are studio sets and California locations. To be honest, it often looks and feels uncannily like an episode of Columbo. Also, being his 70s and suffering from poor health, Hitch was unable to travel too far from the San Francisco production base so an action scene as a car with no brakes careers down a mountain road is done with second-unit POV shots, an under-cranked camera and some very unconvincing process shots of Dern and Harris in a studio.

But there’s still plenty to enjoy, not least the four central performances. Bruce Dern is a loose, pipe-smoking charmer (Al Pacino was considered for the role but was too expensive). William Devane is terrifically icy cool and sinister (they actually starting shooting with Roy Thinnes, but then he was ungraciously dumped when first choice Devane became available). Barbara Harris is adorable and funny. And Karen Black has real star quality (she’s also the focus of a self-aware gag from Hitch: when we first see her character, she’s a classic, enigmatic Hitchcock blonde… then she takes her wig off to reveal brunette hair).

There’s also a grandstanding cameo from Nicholas Colasanto (later Coach in sitcom Cheers) as a kidnap victim; Katherine Helmond (later Jessica in sitcom Soap) playing Basil Exposition and telling George the necessary plot information at just the right time; and decent incidental music by John Williams, then hot from Jaws (1975).

Eight silhouettes out of 10

 

 

The Wicker Man: The Different Cuts

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists!

The version of The Wicker Man that came out in 1973 was not what the director intended. Around 12 minutes of footage had been removed from Robin Hardy’s movie on the orders of his superiors at production company British Lion. They feared that it was too difficult a film for a general audience and also wanted a shorter cut that could be released as a B-movie. Running at 87 minutes, The Wicker Man was first released as the support for Don’t Look Now in December.

Then, in 1976, Hardy decided to release his original version in America. But there was controversy when it became apparent that his 99-minute cut had been junked, as had all 368 cans of the raw footage from the late-1972 shoot. Some people, including the movie’s star Christopher Lee, saw this as a deliberate, petulant ploy on the part of British Lion. Less paranoid people concluded that the footage has simply been misplaced. (Archiving the rushes and assembly edits from an unsuccessful horror film was not standard practice in the 1970s.)

It was then recalled that a print of the longer version had been sent to independent film producer Roger Corman in LA when he’d been asked for advice on how to market the movie. Being a film geek, Corman had kept his copy – so it was now used for the basis of a rerelease in 1977. (Ironically, Hardy took the opportunity to take out a few scenes.)

I’ve already reviewed the 1973 version of The Wicker Man, so this is a look at the extra footage that’s contained in the original director’s cut. It’s not an extensive list of every difference; just a discussion of the interesting ones. Some of these moments were trimmed out for the 1977 release, but all three versions are now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

* Because any scenes that were cut out in 1973 are taken from Corman’s viewing print, the picture quality is not as strong.
* As originally released in 1973, The Wicker Man begins with policeman Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) arriving on the island of Summerisle. In the earlier director’s cut, however, that arrival is preceded by six minutes of storytelling… On the mainland, Howie chats to a colleague called McTaggart (John Hallam) and walks past some graffiti on a wall that reads ‘Jesus saves’. Howie agrees with the sentiment but still wants it removed. McTaggart then gently ridicules his superior after Howie asks how things are in the town: “Just the usual,” he replies. “Rape, sodomy, sacrilege.”
* Next, we see Howie attending and speaking at a church service (some footage of which was used in the theatrical cut as brief flashbacks). We get a closer look at his fiancée, Mary (Alison Hughes), while the minister is played by director Robin Hardy in a Hitchcock-style cameo.
* In the next scene, a postman (Tony Roper) delivers a letter to the police station and shares a joke with McTaggart about the uptight, prudish Howie. “Ah, poor old Mary,” says the postman. “When those two are married, she’ll spend more time on her knees in church than on her back in bed!” Howie then walks in on them laughing. The letter, of course, is the one telling Howie about the missing Rowan Morrison. He says he’ll visit the island of Summerisle and will be away overnight.
* We then cut to him flying to the island in his seaplane – ie, the opening scene of the theatrical version.
* The film’s first in-story song, The Landlord’s Daughter, has an extra verse in the longer cut. During it, the landlord (Lindsay Kemp) bangs the optics with a pair of spoons and we get a look at the musicians.
* Later in the same scene, after the landlord says that last year’s harvest-festival photo is missing because the frame broke, there’s an extra shot of him looking meaningfully at the space on the wall.
* A major bit of restructuring occurs now. In the longer cut of the film, Willow (Britt Ekland) doesn’t sing her sexy song at this point in the story. Instead, we see the musicians in the pub (including the film’s composer) singing a gentle, sensual folk song. Outside, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) appears under Willow’s bedroom window and introduces her to a boy called Ash Buchanan (Richard Wren). This is clearly a regular arrangement: Summerisle brings Willow young men for her to bed. Howie watches on bemused. Then Summerisle has a long speech about how he likes animals: “They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick discussing their duty to ‘God.’” Later, Howie is trying to sleep but has to ignore the sound of Willow and Ash having sex.
* The next morning, Howie and Willow share a quick scene and he asks where the school is. In the theatrical version it was replaced by a scene (absent from the long cut) where Willow wakes Howie with a cup of tea and says, “I thought you were going to come and see me last night.” (Because, of course, in that version of the film she’s already tried tempting Howie into bed.)
* A scene that was cut out in 1973 shows Howie questioning the island’s unhelpful doctor (John Sharp). Howie has been told that the missing Rowan Morrison has died and asks the GP how. “She was burnt to death,” he says. “As my lunch will be if I continue here talking to you.”
* Willow’s siren song happens now – during Howie’s *second* night on the island. As well as being moved, a verse was trimmed out when the film was edited down in 1973.
* In the longer edit Howie’s frantic search of the island has a couple of moments that were missing in the theatrical cut: he looks in the hairdressers, then falls down someone’s stairs.

REVIEW: It may be sacrilege to say it, but the shorter, butchered version of The Wicker Man is a better film than the original director’s cut. The theatrical print is leaner, tauter, pacier and jumps straight into the story, whereas the longer version has scenes that you just don’t need. The opening, for example, is six minutes of hammering home Howie’s puritanical, uptight Christianity. But cutting it in 1973 didn’t damage the film because later scenes (and Edward Woodward’s excellent performance) sell the notion perfectly well and more economically. The other major difference between the cuts is the shifting of Willow’s song from the story’s second night to its first. Again, the enforced change helps the movie. Not only does it pull Britt Ekland’s nudity forward – this is, after all, an exploitation film – but it means we lose Summerisle’s original introduction. His first scene in the director’s cut is a rather naff and redundant scene where we spy him standing him outside Willow’s window. In the 1973 release print, he gets a much stronger first moment: Howie thinks he’s in an empty room in Summerisle’s mansion, then Christopher Lee appears from behind a high-backed chair.

Nine slugs out of 10

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This website was incredibly helpful in providing information and context.

King Kong (1976, John Guillermin)

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A cash-in sequel called Son of Kong followed within a year of the 1933 version of King Kong. The title character then appeared in two Japanese movies – King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967). However, this is a section-by-section review of the big-budget remake produced in 1976. Warning: there are spoilers ahead!

Surabaya, Indonesia: An oil company is funding an expedition to an obscure island, but as the ship takes on supplies a palaeontologist called Jack Prescott smuggles himself aboard…
* It’s clear straight away that this remake has decided on some significant changes. For a kick off, it’s contemporary so we’re in the mid-70s rather than the early 30s. We also start in Indonesia, so there’s no New York prologue. And the character who drives the story has been switched from a movie director to a greedy oil executive: Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin). One of his hangers-on is played by René Auberjonois, later the baddie in Police Academy 5 amongst other things.
* The heroic Jack, who’s the lead character in this version of the story, is played by a wild-haired Jeff Bridges.

On board the Petrox Explorer: The team travel to the island, which Wilson explains is uncharted and has never been seen. But a static fog bank and some satellite imagery mean land must be there…
* Prescott sneaks into a briefing and reveals himself with a blaze of information-heavy dialogue. (It reminds you of Quint in the town-meeting scene of Jaws… only not as good.) He suggests the fog bank might be hiding something dangerous, but Wilson just wants him locked up for trespassing.
* On his way to the temporary cell, however, Prescott spots a raft floating in the water. Its only occupant turns out to be an unconscious, beautiful, blonde woman in a flimsy cocktail dress. (Of all the rafts I’ve ever found in the middle of the ocean, not one of them has ever contained this.) The woman turns out to be Dwan (sic – she changed the spelling to be kooky), played by Jessica Lange. Before she wakes up, there’s a bit of comedy business as a crewman considers molesting her. There was a similar gag in Superman: The Movie. The 70s, eh?
* Once awake, Dwan gets over the drowning of all her friends very quickly and is soon flirting with Jack and others. Dwan is the equivalent of Ann Darrow from 1933, of course: both characters are actresses. Meryl Streep was in the running to play Dwan, but the producer didn’t think she was attractive enough. Well, the role could have done with her acting skills. Lange looks lost in the part and – with her confidence knocked by poor reviews – didn’t do another movie for three years. She also gets some tame nudity.
* The antagonism between Prescott and Wilson is kinda dropped around now, because it’s been proved that Jack is who he says he is. He’s given the job of expedition photographer, which means he can be in all the important scenes and play a role in the story.
* The movie is pretty drab around this section. There’s little life to anything, and some rambling line-readings don’t help. Some shots feel like they’re filmed a rehearsal.

Skull Island: Once past the thick fog that surrounds the island, a small team goes ashore. They find a tribe of natives performing a ceremony, then Dwan is kidnapped and given as an offering to a massive ape called Kong…
* There’s such little tension to the story at this point – a real contrast from the 1933 film. The characters are flimsy and dull, and the film’s whole tone is drab. Having said that, John Barry’s incidental music is working overtime to create some mood. It’s big and brassy in Barry’s classic James Bond style.
* Another thing this segment has going for it is the location work. Rather than the LA backlot and beaches of 1933, this King Kong has gone to lush, epic Hawaii. It’s well shot too, making good use of pretty lighting conditions. But the tick in the visual box quickly fades when we get our first matte shot of the island’s huge wall. It’s like something you’d see in a 1960s Star Trek episode.
* A couple of changes from the 1933 film here: oil is found, giving Wilson reason to stay, while the natives make their intentions for Dwan clear as soon as they spot her.
* After Dwan is kidnapped, we get our first sighting of Kong. It’s an actor in a gorilla costume. Now, the Kong in 1933 was demonstrably a stop-motion puppet and no more ‘real’ than someone being filmed on a scale set. But this is close to comical, especially given how Kong walks upright like a man. There’s actually a misjudged joke in the script when someone says, “Who the hell do you think [flattened the jungle]? A guy in an ape suit?” If it’s meant as a wink to the audience it doesn’t work. As well as a guy in an ape suit, a number of other techniques are used to represent the giant beast: a life-size model hand, an animatronic face and some ropey composite shots. But it’s a man in a costume when Kong brawls with an unconvincing giant snake.
* It’s also really noticeable that once Kong appears the film becomes very indoorsy. These are scenes set outdoors but shot on a sound stage, presumably because of the difficulties in filming Kong. There are painted backdrops and echoey footsteps. You wouldn’t say this is the movie’s best sequence, even if it does give Dwan a chance to show more fight than 1933’s Ann Darrow ever did.
* Meanwhile, as Prescott and others risk their lives to try to save Dwan, oilman Wilson relaxes on the beach and gets a massage. Subtle character stuff, there. When he finds out the island’s oil is worthless, Wilson decides to set a trap for Kong as a way of making the trip profitable. It’s very noticeable that the natives have all vanished from the story now.

On board the Petrox Explorer (again): A captured Kong is transported back to America…
* A massive change to the 1933 story here: we actually see the characters’ voyage home. Because the expedition is funded by an oil company rather than a film director, the ship is big enough for Kong to be kept in the cargo hold. Christ, the film’s getting boring now. This section is superfluous.

New York City: Wilson forces Kong to take part in an event to publicise his oil company, but the beast breaks free and goes on the rampage…
* The same basic events from 1933 happen again, but instead of a theatre show we get an open-air exhibition. The train stunt from the original film is restaged with a nice twist: Dwan is on the train. This whole sequence is lengthier than in 1933, though, and less exciting. Prescott and Dwan even have time to hole up in a hotel and flirt some more.
* Of course, one massive change from the original is that Kong no longer climbs up the Empire State Building. Instead it’s the South Tower of the then-new World Trade Center. (Presumably as a deliberate nod to 1933, Dwan mentions the Empire State Building earlier in the movie. It’s also seen briefly.)

Review: Shallow characters, poor performances, naff effects. At times the script feels like it wants to zip along like a Tom Mankiewicz-scripted Bond film, but it just falls flat. The movie feels even longer than its 134 minutes, in fact.

Five coast-to-coast tours out of 10

Next: The 2005 remake…

The Omen (1976, Richard Donner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After a series of strange deaths, the American ambassador in the UK fears his son, Damien, may be the Antichrist…

Best performance: Gregory Peck holds the whole thing together, playing Robert Thorn as a man emotionally tortured into thinking the unthinkable. But it’s a notably strong cast, with terrific turns from David Warner as suspicious photographer Keith Jennings, Patrick Troughton as troubled priest Father Brennan, and Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Baylock, the terrifying nanny.

Best death: Keith Jennings, who’s decapitated by a sheet of glass that’s been flung sideways off the back of a truck. The stunt is shot from numerous angles and the edit shows us the impact four times. The fake head then spins off almost poetically, while behind Keith a shop window breaks and red wine is symbolically thrown up into the air.

Review: The really smart thing about this film is – to use the director’s term – its verisimilitude. Everything is played absolutely for real. It’s a horror film seemingly about the son of Satan, yet nothing inexplicable or supernatural actually happens. A nanny hangs herself, there are some tragic accidents, a child throws a tantrum or two… The horror instead comes from these plausible events mounting up, the way they’re centred on a creepy little boy, and – most effectively – the fact a father allows himself to be convinced that his son is evil. But is he right? One interpretation of the story is that Damien is just a normal child and Robert has gone mad. It’s a fascinating idea. The Omen is a great movie, helped by some terrific incidental music by Jerry Goldsmith, fine location filming at the genuine American embassy in Grosvenor Square, and an all-round excellent job of directing by Richard Donner. Superb.

Nine armies on either shore out of 10

Carry On England (1976)

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A new commander takes charge of a Second World War army camp and is shocked to discover it’s a mixed-sex outfit…

What’s it spoofing? The film is trading on the popularity of contemporary sitcoms such as Dad’s Army (1968-1977), MASH (1972-1983) and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974-1981), where a military organisation is made up of wisecracking soldiery and frustrated officers.

Funniest moment: Peter Jones’s brigadier keeps making weak puns then turning to his assistant expecting a complimentary laugh.

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Connor (16) plays Captain S. Melly. He’s trying his best, but the material’s just not there.

* Peter Butterworth (15) has little more than a cameo as Major Carstairs.

* Joan Sims (23) is given the underwritten role of Private Ffoukes Sharpe, which was originally offered to The Good Life’s Penelope Keith.

Notable others:

* Peter Jones, as mentioned, plays an army bigwig.

* Johnny Briggs – who was just about to join Coronation Street for a 30-year stint – appears as Melly’s driver.

* Windsor Davies is back from Carry On Behind to play Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer, a shouty character not a million barrack rooms away from his role in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

* Patrick Mower, now of Emmerdale, is the de facto lead of the soldiers: Sergeant Len Able. It’s yet another attempt on the Carry On producers’ part to find a new Jim Dale.

* Judy Geeson plays Sergeant Tilly Willing. Geeson’s sister, Sally, had been in a couple of earlier Carry Ons.

* Jack Douglas plays Bombardier Ready (subtle surnames, aren’t they?) and does some more twitching.

* Melvyn Hayes – yet another It Ain’t Half Hot Mum star – plays Gunner Shorthouse.

* Diane Langton plays the ditzy and busty Alice Easy. The role was meant for Barbara Windsor.

* Patricia Franklin, in her fifth and final Carry On role, gets about three seconds on screen as a cook.

* Julian Holloway appears in a Carry On one last time, playing Major Butcher, the camp’s doctor.

Top totty: As strange as it feels to say – given that she now plays a granny in Hollyoaks – but Diane Langton’s quite cute.

Alternative version: The original edit of Carry On England – which I watched for this review – ran into trouble with the BBFC due to a scene of topless women and a gag punning on the word Fokker. So the cut released in 1976 toned the former down and replaced the latter with a different joke. Both versions are included in the DVD box set, though the milder one is VHS-quality for some reason.

Review: This film proves why so many of the earlier Carry On movies are still popular today: despite their obvious failings, none is as horrendously unloveable as this garbage. There’s barely a single laugh in the whole thing, while none of the regiment make any real impression – they get the screen time but they’re all so forgettable. Add in nonsensical slapstick, lots of post-dubbed dialogue and tacky sound effects, and you get a grotty little film.

Two battledress trousers (that is all) out of 10

Arrival (1976)

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Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.

Cover: Last time, the cover art depicted the group as old-fashioned fops in the back seat of a chauffeur-driven car. Now that they’re global superstars, they’re in a fucking helicopter. They’re dressed all in white, while the sun is low and in their eyes, giving them an angelic glow.

Best song: Well, it’s clearly Dancing Queen, isn’t it? It was originally called Boogaloo and was a deliberate attempt to ape the then-current disco scene. All four band members have spoken of knowing instantly that they had something special. It starts with an infectious piano-slide intro, then there’s a driving hi-hat beat and cut-glass vocals. The way the track seems to endlessly wind its way upwards is mesmerising. Dancing Queen is a legal high.

Honourable mentions:

* When I Kissed the Teacher opens the album with some acoustic guitar strums, then becomes a foot-tapper reminiscent of 1960s girl-group pop. The vocal parts pile up, and there’s even a breakout line (“One of these days…”) where the track slams to a halt.

* My Love, My Life has a lovely, soft harmony intro.

* Knowing Me, Knowing You is a blockbuster. It was actually written before either of the group’s two couples split up, but the lyric – part resignation, part defiance – is the quintessential ‘divorce’ song. Frida’s characterful lead vocal is superb, as are the detailed backing parts. And the invention in the arrangement is breathtaking. Check out the delayed strikes of a guitar that open the song, the bass guitar complementing the singing line, the dramatic rise in intensity before the chorus, the ‘A-ha!’s, the neat little guitar solos, and the sexy whispered backing vocals (“They’ll be… with me… always…”). Fantastic stuff.

* Money, Money, Money. Effortlessly brilliant.

* That’s Me – a jaunty, likeable track, which is one of Agnetha’s favourite ABBA songs.

* The album closes with an instrumental that has wordless vocals and a vaguely folk or Celtic feel. It was called Arrival because that had already been chosen as the LP’s title.

Worst song: Dum Dum Diddle is a saccharin-flavoured throwaway.

Best CD extra: There’s loads of good stuff on the album’s bonus DVD. The contemporary Swedish TV special ABBA-DABBA-DOOO!!, which is a mixture of filmed performances, old clips, biography and interviews, is a hoot. You can also see Noel Edmonds introduce Fernando on Top of the Pops. But the highlight is an extract from a 1976 documentary that was the only time ABBA were ever filmed in the studio. There’s footage of Benny and Björn talking Frida and Agnetha through the vocal melody of Dancing Queen – and then, wonderfully, a clip of the women singing a verse that was cut from the finished song (“Baby, baby, you’re out of sight/Hey, you’re looking all right tonight…”).

Best video: Like so many ABBA videos, the promo for Money, Money, Money begins with a close-up of piano keys. We see lead vocalist Frida rushing through city streets, then cut to a film studio, where she’s standing moodily in an artful spotlight while wearing a big hat. She’s alone and mysterious and exotic and very sexy. Her bandmates appear whenever the song kicks into the chorus, all dressed in flamboyant white disco-karate outfits. At one point, Frida and Agnetha stand face to face so closely that you’re certain they’re going to kiss. Sadly they choose to carry on singing instead. The video has insert shots to hammer home the theme of the lyric – we see shiny coins, dollar bills, diamond rings and the group driving along in a convertible. From this album, the band also shot promos for Dancing Queen (set in a night club, handheld camera, the band on a tiny stage), That’s Me (lots of the couples hugging each other, long two-shots of the girls looking down the lens, shots repeated from Money, Money, Money) and Knowing Me Knowing You (filmed in the snow, Frida wearing a massive furry hood, more hugging and two-shots).

Review: The highs are higher than ever before. But there are still two or three tracks we could do without.

Eight laws of geometry out of 10.