For those in Peril
In ‘40 there is no provision for rescue from the Channel, in ‘44 the RAF has lots of gear and tackle and trim, motor boats and all. A grounded flyer reassigned to Air-Sea Rescue has a fast two weeks in which to grumble and learn before a “tricky first show” puts him in the action hot and heavy off the French coast.
Crichton starts with the documentary filmmakers (Harry Watt is a screenwriter) in calm clear pictures, the drama of the thing, and the general tone of wartime Britain.
Hue and Cry
The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief of the corner. You have to explain the joy of children springing up all along the ruins of London filmed as only Ealing can, the sewer sequence (“coo dunnit pong”) is ahead of Werker and Reed and Wajda, Tewksbury’s Emil and the Detectives and Quine’s How to Murder Your Wife take off from it, not to mention Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (and Wyler’s Dead End as a source), Resnais remembers these avidly imaginative readers in I Want to Go Home.
Between Red Skelton in Ship Ahoy (dir. Edward Buzzell) and Martin and Lewis in Artists and Models (dir. Frank Tashlin), “ohhhhhhh, how I loaoaoaoathe adventurous-minded boys!” A job at Covent Garden remembered in Frenzy (dir. Alfred Hitchcock), “and if you find any corpses under those spuds, gimme a whistle! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” The filming on location recalls for us if not for Crichton Too Much Johnson (dir. Orson Welles). The music is certainly a cue for Delerue in Russell’s French Dressing, even before that he borrows the opening credits for Peepshow. A key formulation that goes into Brook’s Lord of the Flies. “Why not Bing Crosby?” (cf. McCarey’s Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s). The cops find nothing, you go it alone, an essential structure mirrored among other places in Rear Window (Detective Inspector Ford out of The 39 Steps puts the “Blood and Thunder Boys” right onto J. Nightingale, “a good turn” has it coming).
Operation Seagull, the villain unmasked. Zéro de Conduite (dir. Jean Vigo) the definitive study (cf. on quite the other hand Rossellini’s Germania anno zero). A film of vast and wide influence to be sure (cf. Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, to name a striking example).
Screenplay T.E.B. Clarke, décor Norman G. Arnold, cinematography Douglas Slocombe, score Georges Auric, whence to be sure Tony Richardson’s a taste of honey.
Variety, “director Charles Crichton has been conscientious, but queer camera angles and shadows can add little thrill when the original material lacks it.” Time Out (probably thinking of Cocteau’s Orphée), “its charm... is of another world.” Peter Freedman (Radio Times), “slight but entertaining Ealing comedy caper.” Ali Catterall (Film4), “a wonderful slice of very British escapism.” Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph), “truly adorable.” Mark Duguid (British Film Institute), “the way the Ealing comedies are usually remembered today—as cheery celebrations of English community spirit and mild eccentricity.” George Perry (Forever Ealing), “its patent absurdity is made believable”. TV Guide, “half-hearted British comedy”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “amusing British comedy”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “vivid London locations... sturdy comic plot”, citing Richard Winnington, “disarming”.
Against the Wind
The admirable Crichton in Hue and Cry had found British cinema at the forefront of the art, and here he goes back undercover into the studio in a tale not unlike Fritz Lang’s Cloak and Dagger. All he asks is to be placed in any town or wood with a situation, a person or a lorry to photograph, and he will give you pictures the like of which has not been seen since Giorgione and the master of Delft.
“My America! my new-found-land,” and thus the prime article before A Fish Called Wanda, in a satirical vein.
The theme is closely considered out of a near precedent, Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and goes back through Pommer (Vessel of Wrath) and Hitchcock (Rich and Strange).
Crichton is in his element, as always, his title is Ireland and Dublin seen at dawn in the opening sequence.
Impossible to say why the film has no reputation, except that Crichton is too brilliant by halves and decades ahead of his time.
The Lavender Hill Mob
“British cultural depravity” is prismatically described and defined in Clarke’s superbly decorous screenplay as a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower converted into pint-sized paperweights made of gold-painted lead by Gewgaws, Ltd. and depicting the same, obstreperously bought by British schoolgirls as a memento of the occasion.
In America, Hindemith related his stay at an inn that supplemented its grand view of Niagara Falls with outdoor loudspeakers spouting the Liebestod.
Isak Dinesen asks, “what is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?”
The conditions of the hunt are these, a sailor (Dirk Bogarde) home from the sea is wanted for the murder of his wife’s lover, the company director where she worked, also wanted is a seven-year-old boy (Jon Whitely) adopted by a Scottish couple in London and gone missing after setting a kitchen curtain alight, he’s been savagely beaten over time by his new father till his back is covered with marks. The entire proceeding of the screenplay is fitted to the production of these two images and their full exposition. Having accomplished that, it concludes the film along a line suggested by Chaplin’s The Kid.
Known in the U.S. as The Stranger in Between. H.H.T. of the New York Times would seem to have dozed off, his review makes clear he hadn’t the foggiest what was going on.
The Titfield Thunderbolt
Crichton is very aware, as who would not be, that this is Sam Wood’s Saratoga Trunk, the tale of Texas hinted at by Wood is shown by Crichton on television.
The great effort is to combine Saratoga Trunk and its model, Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, into the Titfield-Mallingford line. This is a job of work for T.E.B. Clarke, he accomplishes it handily.
The Man in the Sky
For a surface reading of the film that is observant within the bounds of film criticism and far beyond the usual ruck, the spectator is referred to an unsigned review in The Times.
That critic correctly grasped at least part of the structure, the final sequence (prelude and postlude share the sand castle motif). The main thing, ultimately, is the test pilot’s grasp of all the threads in the situation, as far as possible, with an added sense of fear replaced by courage that is underlined to make the point.
The plane is a twin-engine front-loading freighter in need of a buyer, the pilot can’t afford that house the wife wants, the port engine catches fire and so forth.
George Perry’s remarks in Forever Ealing are worse than absurd.
The Divided Heart
A Bavarian adoption case, mother in Yugoslavia.
The director of Hue and Cry conveys perfectly happy German children at a birthday party “seven years after the war ended”. A tale told before the United States Court of Appeals of the Allied High Commission for Germany. Occupation of Slovenia. Arrest and execution of the father. “The Fuhrer is our best friend. Adolf Hitler is the friend of all children.” Arrests, flight, capture, separation, “and the gold from our teeth with jackknives,” Auschwitz.
The numerous references to Welles’ Citizen Kane nevertheless give the meaning of the film as properly “the Union forever!”
“Then we should like to see the boy,” says the Court, “and learn his wishes from his own lips.”
With Alec McCowen in a bit part as a reporter, John Schlesinger likewise as the ticket collector, and Martin Stephens’ debut at five.
Whittingham screenplay, cinematography Otto Heller (Waterson operator), score Auric suggesting “Hatikvah”. BAFTAs to both mothers (Yvonne Mitchell, Cornell Borchers).
George Perry misses the point rather spectacularly in Forever Ealing, “but the ultimate effect is a subdued one, and perhaps the reason for the film’s comparative failure with the public lies in its own lack of involvement in the drama which it relates. It is, in essence, far too British about everything,” italics none of his doing.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times likewise, “the one thing they do which this reviewer considers both artless and false is cook up an arbitrary verdict as to the disposition of the boy.” Variety, “at no time does the script measure up... there is rarely more than a superficial approach to this postwar problem.” Leonard Maltin, “intelligent study”. TV Guide, “sentimental but worthwhile”. Time Out, “stolid, earnest drama”. Film4, “classic fact-based Ealing drama”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “an effective, high-gloss British soap opera.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “effective ‘woman’s picture’”.
Law and Disorder
It went by too fast for Weiler of the New York Times, and Variety (which had the same trouble) said it was edited that way. Emeralds that are not emeralds, paid for with cash that is nonexistent, are at the center of the matter.
The feint is Cooper v. Cooper, a case at law of a parrot insulting the publican’s wife.
It was well thought of at the time, but per these restrictions of understanding its reputation has declined, so that it now rests in the slough of Time Out Film Guide as “sub-Ealing”.
Floods of Fear
The high mountains fill with snow, it melts, rainstorms swell the torrent, the valley is a flood zone, intrepidly depicted. The levee breaks, sending a convict work crew downriver. One con has a score to settle. The impressive filming (set in America, shot at Pinewood) is absolutely authentic, and that’s the whole point, one of those massive floods that covers a river basin, houses, land, everything, the camera has recourse now and then to the sight of nothing anywhere but high water, wreckage, treetops. Frame job, murder, construction company seized, up the river. All the performances are notable, Howard Keel’s especially for its bravura mastery of a physically demanding role.
The Battle of the Sexes
The mildest Scot that ever trod the streets of Edinburgh is much more the man than his boss, a fat fool trained in England, “soft”.
An American horror, the “business consultant” hard as candy, threatens to improve Scottish tweed right out of existence, she must be killed or neutralized.
Let her be under the impression that she has been wooed by a maniac bent on destroying the firm, whom all know as the mildest Scot that ever.
Back to New York the horror retreats, with only tears to serve as weapons.
Weiler (New York Times) flattered himself he knew his Thurber, Film4 their Crichton.
The Third Secret
The great analyst dies, a suicide according to the evidence, but there is some doubt. His handful of active patients are neurotics but might have included a paranoid schizophrenic.
The art dealer and aspiring painter crushed by lack of sales, the lonely secretary not sure of her way, the judge with a misdeed in his past, the American television commentator in London ravaged by news of the death, who undertakes an investigation at the behest of the dead man’s fourteen-year-old daughter.
The neurotics are easily identifiable, the psychotic rebels against the doctor per se as distinct from the father, there you have a critique of psychiatry.
The commentator, wounded in his inquiry, considers after all that the analyst was a physician, not a god.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times compared it to “a strand of loose spaghetti”, Halliwell’s Film Guide says “pretentious” and cites the absolute nix of the Monthly Film Bulletin to boot.
A Fish Called Wanda
Two broads in powdered wigs, “and on that point” ends the summation to the jury.
The defence of the realm against a really stupid and especially ugly American involves a lot of soul-searching and a certain amount of risk that cancel each other out and mean diamonds in the rough.
London was never lovelier. This is not so much the great city as the old city, correctly photographed. Whistler might be invoked, as this is a riposte to the bric-à-brac merchants, or would be if it weren’t so polished. Useful comparison might be made to Whelan’s The Divorce of Lady X, fortuitously.
Oddly enough, the script by John Cleese is really closer to the style of Alexander Mackendrick, but it’s all the same to Crichton. Gags are dispatched with ease and even a calculable amount of carelessness in a way sometimes associated with the New Wave. A Steadicam in short bursts at times organizes complex little shots with greater ease than a tilt-and-pan or a dolly-out on action.
Within these droll turns, the actors have freedom from certain stereotypes, so that something original is suggested. A rare opportunity for Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and especially John Cleese to work effectively, with Michael Palin showing what a “hardened comedian” is.