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, 20 June 2012

Life - and love - during wartime

An interesting triple bill with a lot in common: YANKS and UNTIL THEY SAIL plus an English TV show.

Nice to see YANKS again, we liked John Schlesinger's 1979 film at the cinema and it still packs an emotional wallop now. Schlesinger's '60s/'70s output (A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR, DARLING, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY) are all essential movies for me, and that thriller MARATHON MAN. YANKS is more of the same, a well-crafted tale by Colin Welland with a large cast of characters. It must have been a complex film to shoot, with all those soldiers and villagers of that Yorkshire town. Schlesinger orchestrates it all marvellously and for once the period detail seems just right without being trowelled on. It really looks like the 1940s here as G.I.s arrive in England, not knowing if they will survive the war or not ....

During WWII, the United States set up army bases in Great Britain as part of the war effort. Against their proper sensibilities, many of the Brits don't much like the brash Yanks (over a million of them), especially when it comes to the G.I.s making advances on the lonely British girls, some whose boyfriends are also away for the war. One Yank/Brit relationship that develops is between married John, an Army Captain, and the aristocratic Helen, whose naval husband is away at war. Another relationship develops between one of John's charges, Matt, a talented mess hall cook, and Jean. Jean is apprehensive at first about even seeing Matt, who is persistent in his pursuit of her.

We focus on 3 romances here, covering the social divide. Ordinary guy, Richard Gere (just before AMERICAN GIGOLO) is an army cook, along with his more working class buddy Chick Vennera who falls for working class girl Wendy Morgan a bus conductress. Richard has eyes for English rose type Jean (actually American Lisa Eichhorn - just right here) who works in her family's shop, as the village women wait outside for it to open ("one orange each"). Mother is ailing Rachel Roberts and father is perfect casting too in Tony Melody with that sad face. Her young brother and his friend are fascinatated by the Yanks and the chocolate they have to throw to them. The army base looks authentic too, with the men showering etc.. Then we have lady of the manor Vanessa Redgrave (luminous as ever) and U.S. officer William Devane consoling each other. Her husband is overseas (but returns by the end) while his wife wants a divorce. He and Vanessa know their romance is going nowhere but have some nice moments, including a nice interlude flying to Ireland.

Jean and Matt (Lisa and Gere) are drawn to each other despite her boyfriend overseas much to her parents disapproval - there is the scene where Gere is invited to tea with that cake he has baked. We also see the local cinema and the dance-hall where black G.I.s get into trouble for dancing with the local girls. There is an amusing scene too at the local hotel on New Year's Eve with Joan Hickson as the tipsy waitress ....

It all comes to a climax as the soldiers pull out and the whole town it seems rushes to the railway station to see them off,. Will Jean and Matt see each other before he has to go? It gets terribly emotional as the two girls (Wendy has married Vennera) get to wave them off, Jean's mother has died too. Anne Shelton singing "I'll Be Seeing You" is perfect over the closing credits. Its a great '70s movie with a knowing look back to the '40s. I like it a lot. Maybe Schlesinger's last major work ? and Lisa Eichhorn should surely have had a much bigger career ...

In the million G.I.s here during the war there must have been some gay ones too - this is nicely covered in an episode SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS by Drew Griffith in a 1981 Scottish tv series HOUSE ON THE HILL, 6 tales taking place in the same house in different eras; in the 1940s its cellar is a secret gay bar for servicemen presided over by house caretaker Rachel Davies (who was also in YANKS and A PRIVATE FUNCTION), where in 1944 an English and an American guy meet before going off to the conflict ... not seen since 1981 though, and I don't suppose it will ever surface again. - Its on YouTube at:

How come some films get totally forgotten or never revived? I never saw UNTIL THEY SAIL until recently (when a friend in America sent a copy taped from TCM) - it never turned when I was in Ireland or shown here in England during the last 40 years or so. I knew of its existance as it was Sandra Dee's first film ....

Its a 1957 MGM film directed by Robert Wise - who could turn his hand to anything it seems (as per my recent reviews of his HELEN OF TROY and Julie Andrews' STAR!) - in scope and nice black and white photography, from a James Michener (South Pacific) story about life in wartime New Zealand, focusing on 4 sisters - brunettes Jean Simmons and Piper Laurie, blondes Joan Fontaine and Sandra Dee - who dont really look like sisters at all; as the American fleet arrives en route to the war in the South Pacific, so relations form between local girls and the army boys; the local N Z men are away fighting the war in Europe.

Simmons is the lead, with Fontaine taking 2nd billing to her. Paul Newman (before CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) is widow Jean's love interest and they are very appealing together - she certainly worked with them all in the 50s. He is the army officer investigating the backgrounds of girls who wish to marry G.I.s. Fontaine surprisingly for the time is having a baby before marriage but her beau Charles Drake is killed so she brings up the baby herself. Piper is the bad sister who sleeps around and gets murdered so there is a court case. Its nicely absorbing - I dont suppose they went to New Zealand, its probably a backlot job. Perhaps if it was in colour it be revived more. Like YANKS it shows the effect of soldiers arriving among the locals .... Wise does not sensationalise the material so its rather low-key unlike those other more sensational dramas of the time like PEYTON PLACE. Fascinating to see now though, Jean Simmons with her nicely understated performance shows once again why we like her so much, and Joan (Fontaine) does not overwork that raised eyebrow of hers ... its all looks more '50s than '40s though.

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