The wartime allegory centers on rationing and its alleviation, the wreck of the Cabinet Minister.
The fifth columnist and the Gestapo man try to soak up the water of life from a tight little island, to no avail.
But afterwards, postwar inflation puts it quite out of reach, which is another story, The ‘Maggie’.
The natural-born virtuosity of Mackendrick handles all the symbolism and understanding very swiftly indeed.
The Man in the White Suit
A Cambridge First, fired from one textile mill because of his immodest laboratory expenditures, wangles a position at another and creates the perfect cloth, indestructible and immaculate. No-one wants it in the industry, and in time the stuff unravels anyway, so back to the drawing board.
The inexhaustibility of Mackendrick’s meanings gives you the film critic here, for example, who wades through mountainous seas of commerce and interest to paint a clear picture of the work. Various stocks drop, his trade is benighted, and after all the thing is new each time it’s seen, he “runs howling to his art.”
Capra is a major dividend of Mackendrick’s studies.
A very strong theme running throughout Mackendrick’s work appears here not for the first time. The miraculous is his forte, the improbable and problematical miraculous, and he takes a proper view of it. In spite of calumny and slanders and febrile machinations, a deaf child learns to speak, an unbridgeable gap is crossed, a “raid on the inarticulate,” and in spite of all the unreasoning powers that in this primitive age call such arts the “witch doctor’s” practice.
That is the sobering lesson, though with characteristic modesty the miracle amounts to nothing more than a child’s first words, attended by all the lavish art (particularly in the lighting) that Ealing has at its disposal and Mackendrick can bestow.
A basis of Cassavetes’ A Child Is Waiting and even more closely related to Anderson’s documentary, Thursday’s Children. There is a direct sort of “parody” in Sargent’s Sweet Nothing in My Ear.
Mackendrick says the Scots love a good joke, and anything that’s really very funny. The basis of his film is such a piece of humor that you can glean from its title, Powell & Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going!. He even includes the Scottish wife in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, for good measure.
This is the revelation of the film, which as far as possible makes the lighting cause to represent dramatic or psychological states as the actors move in it. Also from Hitchcock is the rapid film editing of one-second aperçus, but the general speediness is Mackendrick’s, founded on perfect and comprehensive shots.
And Mackendrick eventually identifies a common source, Fleming’s Captains Courageous, beyond the stated premise.
An American top executive (Paul Douglas) needs heating and plumbing supplies for the summer house at Kiltarra to placate his wife. A coastal puffer on the skids gets the job.
Profoundly, the theme gets played in Anderson’s The Shoes of the Fisherman, and the cargo goes overboard to save the boat.
Bosley Crowther liked it, which seems to have given Mackendrick pause. Contemporary British critics are of two or three minds. Dave Kehr of the Chicago Review guesses at it.
The great King’s Cross robbery, appertaining to a train down from Cambridge.
There is the ubiquitous apple cart of Mackendrick’s literally represented, as well as Columbo’s raincoat (the new one) delicately fobbed off.
Mackendrick’s comic masterpiece has quite in the distance a knowledgeable awareness of Preston Sturges, and an evil beauty in Mrs Wilberforce’s street seen from her doorstep.
“Who steals my purse steals trash,” but Mrs Wilberforce is an outstanding witness who must be dealt with.
That is beyond the competence of these clever boarders (visitors really) in her lopsided home above the railway line, “subsidence” causes it, “from the bombing.”
The clever scheme is a satire of a satire, MacDonald’s Devil Girl from Mars or Balaban’s Stranger from Venus being indicated.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “an easy, sprightly joke.” Variety, “amusing piece of hokum.” Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian), “more English than Elgar.” Leonard Maltin, “droll black comedy”. Time Out, “the last, most enduring and best known of all the studio's comedies.”
Sweet Smell of Success
“Flaw in Success,” says Variety, “concerns the newspaperman’s devotion to his sister.” Yet Lehman & Odets have gone so very far as to spell it out explicitly, she is Innocence and “sixty million readers”, her suitor is Integrity (the New York Times for its part agreed with Variety).
A dramatic recapitulation of the McCarthy hearings, better than most at conveying the tawdriness and terror and ultimate insignificance (unless the spectator meditate on Amnon and Absalom, etc.), but there is still something more, which is just the form of the battle.
Mackendrick’s singular adaptation to the demands of the exceptionally well-wrought screenplay is visible as a Londoner or Glaswegian at home in a great city, his views of New York are incomparable, he takes you to Toots Shor and 21, the camera pivots on the corridors of Hunsecker’s lobby and outside is the Trans-Lux down the street.
Sammy going South
Critics never quite perceived that this is the adventure of an English boy in Africa modeled on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and that it’s significant.
Instead, they’ve pointed out that Edward G. Robinson is a wonderful actor.
Conclusions must be drawn, there is much to say about the white man in Africa, and about a boy growing up, and when the critics do it will be said.
For now, it’s enough that the film was slightly longer on its first release, and considerably longer before that, to say not a word on the disastrous American trimming that presumably cut to the chase, ignoring the founder of the feast.
A High Wind in Jamaica
The main work is the vast redemption of childhood as irresponsibility, followed by the considerable damnation of piracy as incapability, then there is the satire of government as a rational enterprise faced with these two but only responsible and capable by the grace of God, finally the parents who have responsibility and upon whom it is incumbent to be capable.
That is the long and short of Mackendrick’s masterwork, largely filmed at sea and exhibiting great originality at every stage by dint of the new impressions demanded by the structure, which is not dramatic but analytical.
Don’t Make Waves
The Gold Rush serves as the acknowledged basis of the work and receives precisely the same consideration that Don’t Make Waves got from Blake Edwards when he made it into 10.
Mackendrick’s style, his manner of working and his themes, very advanced, can be seen on his natural locations as a very easy mastery, which deluded Variety into calling the film “mildly amiable” but insufficiently “wacky”. The great achievement is a series of compositions that are among the most complex and authentic expressions of Southern California, not to mention the sharp awareness of the comedy, but another ten years passed before Chaplin was honored and Edwards set to work.