The Big Blockade
The Ministry for Economic Warfare, “Britain’s fourth arm.” A film of perfect candor. “You violate me under international law!”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Captain.” Very rapid strides.
“I mean the real Roman Empire.” Facts and dramatizations, “reports”.
“We’re not studying history, we’re making it. Ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha...”
Ersatz. “Take my trousers.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Tom Milne (Time Out), “strictly a museum piece.” Film4, “the message is put across well enough, but it's now worth watching for its well-cast roles and some efficiently executed action sequences.” Radio Times, “embarrassing caricatures”. TV Guide, “the production values of this grinder are low and the direction is flat.” Hal Erickson (Rovi), “quickly fell out of favor once it served its wartime purpose.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “curious”, citing Kine Weekly rather less insensibly. George Perry (Forever Ealing), “heavily propagandist and didactic in tone.”
Producers Balcon and Cavalcanti, cinematographer Cooper, camera Slocombe, editors Crichton and Bennett, special effects Kellino, score Addinsell, screenplay MacPhail.
“The Navy cert system.” The Non-Aggression Pact. “The vicious intrigues of the capitalist Jewish British Empire have been banished forever. Ah! How are the mighty fallen.”
“Pardon, isn’t that quotation from a well-known capitalist Jewish publication?”
“The Bible. So it is. Please accept my apologies!” The Nazi propaganda effort, “a typical German newsreel.” The Battle of the Atlantic, “just as tough for the Germans... tougher every day.”
“You’re telling me, tovarich.” Invasion of Russia, Pearl Harbor, “the vermin of Vichy.” From start to finish, a bombing raid on Hanover. “Well, if the factory is destroyed, we cannot be blamed for the deficiency in our output, can we?”
St. George and the Dragon. Well before “the end of the beginning”, the Siege of Europe.
The Foreman Went to France
From England, on June 12th, 1940, to retrieve defense machinery before the Germans reached the factory.
Refugees choke the road, part of the German plan, and they are strafed. French Fascists are at every turn, local officials, a phony British officer. The blitzkrieg is moving very fast.
The sole initiative of the hero gets him to France, two British soldiers and an American secretary help him back to the coast.
The New York Times reviewer thought it old hat and very good when it premiered in the U.S.A. a year late.
San Demetrio London
The wreck of the San Demetrio averted by fate in a convoy out of Galveston bound for the Clyde with oil.
Richard Brooks’ Lord Jim and Huston’s Beat the Devil have the gross chance of encountering the vessel after abandoning ship, on the Atlantic in winter here subsequent to an attack on the convoy by German surface vessels.
The ravaged ship is afire but seaworthy, and thus begins a tale of seamanship justly honored at the inquest, for the tale is all true.
Variety was full of proper admiration and amazement, George Perry in Forever Ealing follows the BFI in his derelict comment, Time Out Film Guide is distinctly neutral, Halliwell describes a “rather flat and dated propaganda piece, which seemed much more vivid at the time.”
The Loves of Joanna Godden
An anagrammatic analysis of Far from the Madding Crowd (dir. John Schlesinger) showing the expedients of a woman who does not know her own mind, the innovations and susceptibility to notions, a major study on that score as well as of Romney Marsh and Dungeness (cinematography Douglas Slocombe), “lonely now, but lonelier still in 1905.”
H.E. Bates and Angus MacPhail translate the novel, Vaughan Williams makes this the occasion of a further study in its own right.
Variety, “the picture falls short of its intentions.” TV Guide, “the photography is the only high point of the picture, and is also responsible for much of the film’s dragginess. The filmmakers put forth too much effort in displaying the scenery, taking away from the development of the story.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dullish”.
Michael Balcon, Ealing.
Scott of the Antarctic
The determining point of style is dramatic understatement. This was thought by Variety to have been a miscalculation.
The expedition is delayed by lack of Treasury support, it is granted in lesser measure than anticipated at last, Scott and his men depart not so well-supplied as he had hoped.
Frend delineates the circumstances of the exploit by establishing the southernmost continent from the sea and then cutting to the frozen water that covers it, adding a bit of low mist off the ice. The heroism of these Christian gentlemen and scholars, tars and Tommies, remains unflappable throughout an eighteen-hundred-mile trek to the Pole, and even unto death.
It may be imagined that the filmmakers were concerned that some of the events might seem too dramatic, but that is a risk absorbed by the account and the style, the one a matter of public record and the other a means of representing such men, as well as their “wives and sweethearts”.
The very reserve that is shown in the telling is a large part of what Kubrick amassed from the film for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with the departure of the Terra Nova, Scott saying “tell him I’ll bring him a penguin,” a sequence of Antarctic views conveying the strangeness of that “awful place”, and the acerbic poesy of the superimposed titles in the latter part, “The Polar Night”, “The Return of the Sun”.
Conclusions may be drawn about the expedition, as here, and they are principally those of Scott in his journal.
A Run for Your Money
After Scott of the Antarctic, Frend films a proper there-and-back on two Cambrians in London.
There’s the bardic laws, and the sacred symbol, and Wales vs. England at Twickenham, courtesy of the Weekly Echo (circulation millions), and the buying of a diamond ring.
Polanski (Two Men and a Wardrobe) for the Eisteddfod winners about town with two hats and a harp, also Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, second version) for the harp protected from a dustup.
Bosley Crowther (New York Times) was genuinely appreciative, on the same day he chucked Renoir’s Rules of the Game out altogether. George Perry (Forever Ealing) is all wet, well-provided with company, though (Halliwell’s Film Guide, Time Out Film Guide).
An encomium of the invisible watch that tells the correct time only the wearer knows, he swaps it for the irresistible present of a magnet capable of picking up sand pails on the beach. This handy little item is briefly suborned by a hoodlum to the uses of a pinball machine illicitly, but then is donated as the widow-boy’s mite toward the propagation of an iron lung for the local hospital.
The inventor at a beauty pageant hawks the tale of such benevolence and generosity, the Lord Mayor bids at auction and throws back the bait for further sales, he buys the magnet yet again after more bidding at another charity auction.
The donor is a wee tyke just getting over the scarlet fever, an overheard conversation gives him to understand he’s murdered the magnet-owner with his lingering germs, though it’s a parakeet that’s dead of natural causes.
Fleeing the charge, he’s shielded from a copper by guttersnipes he’s impressed, the tall leader dares him across a beam, but falls himself face-down in the surf. Rescue comes, the boy having descended to await it beside the bully, a new iron lung saves the victim’s life.
A civic honor is bestowed, the hero swaps it for his invisible watch back.
One of the greatest Ealing films (or British or Continental) is abstruse and comic in exceedingly fine degrees, therefore it is not admired and never was, consequently it remains little-known. Frend & Clarke have contrived to match the superb screenplay with perfectly unexampled views of the seaside town filled with a constant stream of gags and satire, nothing like it before French Dressing.
The Cruel Sea
A history of the war as fought by amateurs led into it by the occasion.
Mostly raw sailors and officers commanded by a merchant captain, on convoy escort duty.
All the stages and minutest degrees of this are expressed in many details, the drama is the making of a ship’s crew.
The New York Times’ A.W. couldn’t see any drama in it whatsoever, and couldn’t fathom the title.
Ambler’s screenplay covers all the bases and expresses everything, Frend’s direction is equally proficient, the acting misses nothing.
Lease of Life
This is closely related and practically identical to Hamer’s Pink String and Sealing Wax on a country vicar so blithe he teaches Sunday School on “Suffer the little children...”
A school chaplaincy depends (without his knowing it) on a cathedral sermon, his daughter’s up for a piano scholarship at the London School of Music.
An old farmer is dying, the wife and the hired man are scheming for his money.
The vicar finds that he himself has only a year to live.
The daughter is the only hope from a worthless life, says the vicar’s wife.
A man so modest, and rightly so if you prefer, finds his way out of the tangles by writing a regular column in the Sunday Gazette to support the daughter, his cathedral sermon having made headlines for preaching against a headmaster-god and living negatively, by rules.
Frend, Ambler and Donat convey the man’s anguish at the thought of death, like Maté’s D.O.A. ŕ l’anglaise, and Donat’s performance is generally held to redeem the film or not.
The Long Arm
Dearden’s The Blue Lamp for “the gang that stuck up that cinema”, and of course Maltese Eddie of less than fond memory, in fact the Royal Festival Hall is the place where the burglar with a third key from the factory is finally caught at a Rock safe under the watchful eye of Sir Thomas Beecham.
The burglar, three years retired and two dead, has an inside man with the insurance on every job.
The widow, set up in London and bold as brass, has a homicidal taste for getaway driving and one murder on the books.
Locksmith, night watchman, assistant manager at the Hall, real and fictional pursuits of the burglar.
You may, as critics have always done, regard this as the story of a pleasure pier on the English seacoast, Sandcastle-on-Sea, and you will certainly recognize the types on town council and drifting about the place on useless Sundays.
It rather imagines what T.S. Eliot was doing in that bank, which is why Donald Pleasence in the most perfect English bank clerk’s voice tells Captain Ambrose they do not have glasses, drinking glasses, to offer him.
The ending has precisely the significance of the ending of Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending, which critics have misunderstood in very much the same way.