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Top films to watch on TV this week

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Kevin Kline and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (Friday, BBC1, 12.25a.m.)

Kevin Kline and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (Friday, BBC1, 12.25a.m.)

Mel Gibson in Mad Max (Monday, ITV4, 9p.m.)

Mel Gibson in Mad Max (Monday, ITV4, 9p.m.)

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Kevin Kline and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (Friday, BBC1, 12.25a.m.)

WEDNESDAY

The Band Wagon (1953) BBC2, 1.30p.m.

It’s directed by Meet Me in St Louis filmmaker Vincente Minnelli, has a script co-written by Singin’ in the Rain scribes Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and stars Fred Astaire – how could the musical The Band Wagon be anything other than a classic?

Movie star Tony Hunter (Astaire) fears his career is on the skids, but his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) have written the perfect comeback vehicle for him in the form of a light-hearted Broadway show.

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However, when pretentious director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), who sees the comedy as a retelling of the Faust legend, joins the project and casts ballerina Gaby Gerard (Cyd Charisse), Tony fears his big chance is slipping away. The terrific numbers include That’s Entertainment!, Dancing in the Dark and Triplets.

THURSDAY

Escape from Alcatraz (1979) BBC4, 9p.m.

Based on a true story, this tense prison drama follows Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), a convict with a history of escape attempts, who is transferred to the notorious high-security island prison of Alcatraz.

His fellow inmates warn him that it’s impossible to break out – even if you make it over the walls, the tides will get you before the guards do. But after clashing with the brutal warden (a scene-stealing Patrick McGoohan), Frank and three other prisoners think they may just have come up with a way to bust out…

Although it’s not quite as iconic as director Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood’s previous collaboration, Dirty Harry, it’s still an absorbing, perfectly cast thriller. In fact, the scenes set in Alcatraz are so compelling, that some viewers may think the actual escape attempt is a bit of an anti-climax.

FRIDAY

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) BBC1, 12.25a.m.

Stuffy British barrister Archie (John Cleese) has his well-ordered world thrown into chaos when he meets Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), a sultry American thief who wants to know where his client George (Tom Georgeson) has hidden a stash of diamonds.

While being seduced by Wanda for inside information may have its upsides, Archie becomes entangled with her thuggish lover Otto (an Oscar-winning Kevin Kline), who is also busy terrorising George’s animal-loving sidekick Ken (Michael Palin).

This comedy is one of the funniest Britflicks ever committed to film, largely thanks to the cast. Cleese and Palin are terrific, but the American contingent nearly beat the Pythons at their own game. And if it feels like an updated take on the classic Ealing comedies, that may be down to director Charles Crichton, who helmed The Lavender Hill Mob.

SATURDAY

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) ITV, 10.50p.m.

Electronics superstore worker Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) has never had sex. He is not particularly bothered but his colleagues are determined to help Andy take the plunge and set him up with a couple of women.

However, Andy falls madly in love with fortysomething Trish (Catherine Keener), who works across the street. She seems to feel the same way about Andy and the lovebirds agree to proceed slowly, forging their relationship on the basis of no sex…for the first 20 dates at least.

Directed by Judd Apatow, The 40 Year-Old Virgin is a surprisingly sweet and endearing comedy of modern manners. Carell is utterly adorable, putting his nerdy loner through the emotional wringer, including a hysterical chest-waxing scene.

SUNDAY

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) BBC2, 10p.m.

Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a 25-year-old shipping clerk in 1914 Madras, who dreams about formulae, which he scribbles in chalk on temple floors.

With the blessing of his employer Sir Francis Spring (Stephen Fry), Ramanujan bids a tearful farewell to his new wife (Devika Bhise) and travels to Trinity College, Cambridge, to nurture his gift under revered academic GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons).

Adapted from Robert Kanigel’s 1991 biography, The Man Who Knew Infinity is a handsome dramatisation of the real-life Indian mathematician who came to England to share his passion for numbers. Patel and Irons are a pleasing double act – youthful exuberance colliding with stuffy stiff-upper-lipped restraint.

MONDAY

Mad Max (1979) ITV4, 9p.m.

Mel Gibson first hit the big time in this superb futuristic action adventure from director George Miller. He plays an Australian cop who hands in his badge after growing tired of trying to impose order in a lawless society.

The death of his wife and child soon see the heroic lawman drag himself out of retirement in a bid to exact a bloody revenge on those responsible.

Gibson is at his mean and moody best as the cop hell-bent on vengeance, and the chase sequences and terrific stunts are as impressive as they were when the film was released 42 years ago.

Miller proved he hadn’t lost his touch when he helmed the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015.

TUESDAY

Funny Face (1957) Talking Pictures TV, 11.30a.m.

When fearsome editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) wants a model to represent her magazine, photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) picks book-store clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn). Although she’s more interested in philosophy than fashion, Jo agrees because it means a free trip to Paris.

Sadly, it isn’t long before her desire to sit in dark cafes talking about Sartre clashes with her new role – and her burgeoning romance with the snapper.

Astaire looks a little old to be wooing Hepburn, and the plot is thin to say the least, but this musical is still a joy from start to finish. With Singin’ in the Rain co-director Stanley Donen at the helm, you’d expect great song-and-dance routines, but it also boasts fabulous frocks, a generous dash of humour and a scene-stealing turn from Thompson.


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