Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The English '40s and into the '50s

Following on from commenting on Hollywood's '40s, English films of the '40s have always been high on my list of favourites. First, Powell and Pressburger with that wonderful quartet [I am afraid I have not seen A CANTERBURY TALE or OH ROSALINDA, which I must rectify...] of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES. I could write deliriously on each of these, but they are so well known there is no need [my aim here is to discuss the lesser known or lost films]. Suffice to say that I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING and BLACK NARCISSUS are numbers three and four in my top 30 list! Our London listings magazine "Time Out" used to say about NARCISSUS that one could show it out of focus and backwards and it would still be marvellous. Its one of the first movies I taped to video-cassette back in the '80s, now its great having the dvd and those extras on Jack Cardiff etc. Sister Clodagh [Deborah was only 26 at the time] and Sister Ruth and all the others are riveting as ever whenever I see it - Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson as ever, Jean Simmons and Sabu as the exotics. Then those great sets and colours particuarly towards the end - that jump cut and then the rain falling on those giant leaves as the nuns depart and the convent is swallowed up by the clouds as Sister Clodagh has one last request for Mr Dean... and it was all filmed in England and lensed by the incomparable Jack Cardiff! The mystical Hebrides are equally well served in I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING where Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Pamela Brown (right) have never been more perfect, with Nancy Price as Mrs Crozier and that great Ardnacroish dance sequence and that castle! A film to treasure. Powell's PEEPING TOM is also as essential as PSYCHO and L'AVVENTURA in that key year 1960.

On to David Lean: I now love IN WHICH WE SERVE as much as THIS HAPPY BREED, and then there is BRIEF ENCOUNTER and BLITHE SPIRIT, all perfect of their kind, plus the two Dickens films GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST. The Ann Todd films were recent discoveries, I particularly like THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS with the great triangle of Todd, Howard and Claude Rains and that lovely '40s ambience. (More on it in my post on Valentine Day films). Kay Walsh, Celia Johnson, Ann Todd, John Mills, Trevor Howard et al are all ideal Lean actors.

Carol Reed is equally important with THE FALLEN IDOL, ODD MAN OUT and THE THIRD MAN. Add in those delirious Gainsborough melodramas like MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS, CARAVAN and the MAN IN GREY [thank goodness for that Stewart Granger box set of 12 of these!], Flora Robson in POISON PEN, the sumptuous SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS (where Granger, Greenwood, Flora Robson and Francoise Rosay are all sublime) and then those Ealing comedies like the timeless KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and WHISKEY GALORE, and those other 40s dramas like IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, 2,000 WOMEN, GREEN FOR DANGER, THE OCTOBER MAN, THE WAY TO THE STARS (also reviewed further along here), the Anna Neagle-Michael Wilding films and popular late '40s films capturing the moment like HOLIDAY CAMP and DANCE HALL in 1950, important social documents now, as is Basil Dearden's POOL OF LONDON from 1951 when the London docks were in full swing, with those evocative names like Bonar Colleano, Earl Cameron, Renee Asherson and Moira Lister.

Apart from Anna Neagle, Wendy Hiller, Celia Johnson and Joan Greenwood other English '40s leading ladies include Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Patricia Roc, Greta Gynt and Kay Walsh, plus Kerr and Simmons before they went Hollywood. James Mason, Michael Wilding, Stewart Granger, Dennis Price, Jack Hawkins and Trevor Howard were ideal leading men [with Dirk Bogarde, Richard Todd, Kenneth More, Peter Finch etc waiting in the wings], and directors like Ronald Neame, Lewis Gilbert, J Lee Thompson, Basil Dearden, Ralph Thomas were all starting out and would dominate English films in the '50s.

Ken Annakin's HOLIDAY CAMP in 1947 is post-war England in aspic, going on holiday to the new holiday camps. Flora Robson has a great role here as the lonely spinster yearning for her love lost in the war, only to discover he is the holiday camp announcer but is now blind .... Esma Cannon (later in the CARRY ONs) as her twittery friend fares less well, as she falls prey to Dennis Price's murdering conman. The Huggett family (from the radio) are enjoying themselves, led by father Jack Warner and mum Kathleen Harrison. Its an enjoyable time capsule now, as is:

DANCE HALL - Charles Crichton's 1950 portrait of 4 working class girls who work in the local factory and let off steam at the Saturday night dance. A very varied cast here: the girls are young Petula Clark, Natasha Perry, Jane Hylton and the rising Diana Dors. Its a fairly grim look at working class life, but lots of fun too. Donald Houston and Bonar Colleano are among the men they attract, Kay Kendall pops in for a minute, as do Eunice Gayson and Dandy Nichols, Sydney Tafler is the dance hall manager and dear old Gladys Henson is Petula's mum who gives her an awfully old-fashioned dress to wear at the dance contest! Dors is great fun as the good-natured blonde with an eye for a hunky fella! 10 years later SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING would be a new male-dominated update on working class life, as the '60s dawned.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER was a treat to see last year, a 1950 thriller by Ronald Neame set in Tunisia where Trevor Howard is sent to unearth a gang smuggling antiquities out of the country. With his battered hat and pipe Howard is quite the dependable leading man here and is teamed with the teenage Anouk Aimee, as fascinating as ever here in one of her first films. Jacques Sernas is her brother, Herbert Lom leads the heavies as local bigwig Walter Rilla leads the gang. Its a pity its not in colour to capitalise on the locations but its exciting and tense as it seems the whole town is against our couple at the climax.

THE CLOUDED YELLOW. Another 1950 thriller starring Trevor Howard, this time with the young Jean Simmons in another tense tale, this time directed by Ralph Thomas. Howard here is a secret service agent suffering from burn-out, who takes a quiet job in the country cataloguing a butterfly collection (hence the title) at the home of Barry Jones and his wife Sonia Dresdel. Its an original little thriller, I like Howard's jaunty sports car, and the climax is a tense one at Liverpool docks as the villain chases Jean Simmons over the rooftops. Kenneth More is the detective in pursuit, and its one of Simmons' better films of the period, like her charming one with Dirk Bogarde of about the same time, SO LONG AT THE FAIR.

WOMEN OF TWILIGHT - a 1952 meller by Gordon Parry only of note now as its one of Laurence Harvey's early movies, before his breakthrough year 1954. He has 2 scenes here in this humdrum thriller set in a boarding house for unmarried women, ruled by a malevolent Freda Jackson (was she ever anything else?). Dora Bryan is fun as usual, and Lois Maxwell is also on board.

CAST A DARK SHADOW. I thought I was au fait with Dirk Bogarde's movies but only really began seeing them in 1957, when 11, so missed a few early ones like this and Losey's THE SLEEPING TIGER in '54. This '55 meller by Lewis Gilbert is a delicious treat now with Dirk in spivvy mode (looking at his Physique Pictorial magazines..) but somehow middle-aged women go for him in a big way. He begins married to older Mona Washbourne but you can tell he has plans for her...but retains her devoted servant Kathleen Harrison. Margaret Lockwood then enters as a delightfully vulgar woman with money who unaccountably has to marry Dirk but he soon realises she is no fool. Then splendid Kay Walsh comes on the scene and drama soon ensues. It twists and turns nicely, with Robert Flemying a good support. Poor Mona also became infatuated with unstable (and how) Albert Finney in 1963's NIGHT MUST FALL. Dirk's later films for the Rank Organisation were much more colourful like CAMPBELL'S KINGDOM, THE WIND CANNOT READ or the excellent version of A TALE OF TWO CITIES.
I have since caught up with Dirk's earlier roles in BOYS IN BROWN, THE BLUE LAMP, HUNTED, THE GENTLE GUNMAN etc from his 'spiv with a gun' era, and then his War Hero period with APPOINTMENT IN LONDON, THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, THEY WHO DARE, ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT etc- as covered at Dirk label, along with his later British movies like THE SPANISH GARDENER, THE WIND CANNOT READ, THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, LIBEL etc. when he was Rank's "Idol of the Odeons". 

Right: Jean Simmons and teenage Anouk Aimee cooling down at one of Dirk Bogarde's Sunday afternoon parties, circa 1950.

Coming soon: those English actresses of the 50s [Muriel Pavlow, Virginia McKenna, Yvonne Mitchell, Barbara Murray, Dinah Sheridan, Shirley Eaton, Belinda Lee, Diana Dors, Sylvia Syms, Brenda De Banzie etc], to be followed by those Swinging '60s girls.

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