The structure is a system of jokes on the theme, there are also several excellent jokes in the screenplay proper.
The wife who dies in childbirth, rejected lovers, a gadabout husband, the impresario who absconds with the funds, make up the texture.
Newspaper headlines warn of grave events, the British queue en masse for the seaside, there is unfinished business.
“This is good entertainment,” Variety said, following the affair very closely. Time Out Film Guide finds “it lacks the guts and vitality of... similarly populist epics,” and Halliwell’s Film Guide reports it as “still quite refreshing.”
Neither a British comedy nor American, not even Anglo-American, but something else quite probably unique (cp. The Iron Petticoat, dir. Ralph Thomas), a screwball set in London and the Alps, best understood as the American style in the greater freedom of the British, giving the maximum of texture to a stirring satire from the bottom up to the top down.
Lady Constance is a confidence trickster, her beau is a figment of the imagination, he runs into a vaguely arty type, advertising’s her game, there’s a Leninist on the employment intake and a madman on the mountaintops, it succeeds in being absolutely mad, and there you are.
The Stars Look Down
The coal mine owner is a knowledgeable and competent man, he knows where the flooded workings of another day are, he has the old plans in his desk drawer, all he has to do is tap the coal seam from another angle to meet a contract. “A million gallons of floodwater” threaten the men, the owner gauges his chances and denies that any such plans exist (cp. Flap).
The miners strike till they starve and go back in.
And that is the lot of them, on their luck against the end that doesn’t come. The owner cannot resist signing a second contract, thinking there’ll be warnings from the seam before danger comes. He signs this contract with an up-and-coming fellow who used to be in the mines, a brassy young man very sharp in the business and cunning as a ferret.
Another young man has left the mines as well, bound for university and Parliament. He stops short of his degree and sinks back down the miners’ hopes when he marries a bright girl from Tynecastle with a dim mind for magazines and sweets and nothing at all, very pretty and a fathead, who loves the ferret.
Critics have not followed this affair, critics cannot follow a love affair and a coal mine simultaneously.
Kameradschaft (Pabst) is very effectively cited in the horrible scenes that conclude the picture, a signal homage.
Night Train to Munich
The film is closely related to Hitchcock (Secret Agent, The Lady Vanishes, Bon Voyage) and LeRoy (Escape), but mostly Powell (The Spy in Black) for the contrast and comparison of Nazi Germany and everything else.
It was very well received, the richness and intricacy have been overlooked for various superficial appraisals ever since, so that now for instance Time Out Film Guide disregards it as inferior to Hitchcock.
Reed’s terrific masterpiece is in two parts, the first an “organized escape” dealt with in Bon Voyage, the second an undercover mission to Berlin.
Charters and Caldicott are in it like Laurel and Hardy, and to be in it or not is the whole question, the Nazis must be eluded at all costs.
Hitler at some such place as Berchtesgaden orders the Anschluß in furious tones, then the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia are up for grabs, a Czech scientist is spirited away to England, his daughter escapes from a concentration camp as described, both are recaptured by the Nazis at the pleasant seaside resort of Brightbourne, a song-hawker there is a Secret Service agent and fetches them back.
The violence of his opposite number, a heroic anti-Nazi who is actually an SS officer, is a stunning effect. “I believe he is doing diplomatic work in the Balkans.”
“And who is not?”
Artie in the vernacular, Cuyps to his new-found friends, a Fleming, rubbish at an anagram tea, Arthur, nearly the toast of Folkestone society, formerly a draper’s improver, latterly in the book trade, by H.G. Wells.
The Young Mr. Pitt
His valet’s footman at No. 10 is Augustus Pontifex, who has a handmaid. He saves England by giving his life to it, the Lord Mayor of London thanks him and is thanked in return.
Robert Donat’s creation of the role escaped Variety (“seemingly lacks inspiration”), which lauded the picture.
A serious objection is raised to the simplification and vilification of political views, which doesn’t happen in the film, rather everyone is represented as seemingly right, even Bonaparte is a “force of nature” (cf. Bolt’s Lady Caroline Lamb) in his cunning and mastery, Pitt recognizes this and opposes him.
Reed’s perfect, complete art is already that of The Third Man, and was evidently ahead of its time.
“Shapeless and overlong” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
The Way Ahead
A soldier of Dunkirk takes a platoon of recruits to North Africa.
Therein lies the noble tale of draftees reluctantly taking the King’s shilling and rigorous training and the lot, with the occasional bath and tea at Mrs. Gillingham’s, and a U-boat that sends them back to Gibraltar, forward again to a reserve line reached by the Germans.
In the film parlance of criticism at that time, it was called “documentary” style, as especially nowadays the word “propaganda” is used, while Time Out Film Guide speaks of “radicalism”.
It is simply what the war brought, dealt with honestly and faithfully, as far as possible. For that, a masterpiece.
Odd Man Out
The Christological side (Whistle Down the Wind) has always eluded curate-critics, but there in the film are Martha and Mary, a publican, Judas (Shell), Pilate (Tober), and a sort of gospeller (Lukey). The essential strangeness is a part of the distinction this film aspires to and attains.
Ozu’s Dragnet Girl (Hijosen no onna) has a quite similar structure, and he called it a “yakuza melodrama”. Nothing more than a robbery is indicated by Reed, to finance “the organization”, even the city in Northern Ireland is not named.
A botched Christ, of legendary aspect, something vaguely remembered and shouted down (Godard remembers this in Ici et ailleurs)?
Moneychangers in the temple and Ephesian sculptors had their complaints, but here is a man wanted for murder in the act of robbing a mill. A Barabbas contiguous as Brian to the real mystery?
And then his girl puts the pair of them out of their misery to avoid his trial and execution.
A note at the beginning puts the interest of the film not in the Law and the outlaw but rather in the people who are caught up withal. Sojourners, Reed’s Martha and Mary. The high priest is Father Tom of St. Catherine’s, who taught the poor fellow as a boy.
The Fallen Idol
She is Mrs. Baines, the domineering harridan on staff at a foreign embassy of considerable dimensions in London. Her husband loves a girl in the Typing Room (the Visa Room is next door to the embassy).
Critics have never come to terms with this film, while admiring it as somehow deficient on their favorite subject, “loss of innocence”. Truly, Mrs. Baines is redeemed somewhat in her husband’s acknowledgment of the part we all play in making each other what we are, a fine Mozartean arioso.
The ambassador is away to fetch his wife, who has been in hospital, at the last she returns to her little boy whose “wicked mind” Mrs. Baines had sought to beat out of him. So much for critics and their favorite subjects.
Baines is cleared of murder, the boy muddles along (“a brilliant child star”, Variety said), the girl does not leave England on the boat-train, and one of the greatest masterpieces of the cinema ends quite innocently.
Clayton bothers himself about a similar theme in Our Mother’s House, which is very different of course, and naturally there is Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Losey concerns himself with studying various aspects, such as the game of hide-and-seek, in The Servant.
The Third Man
Holly Martins, the one and only original soul full of hope. “How could he have done it?”
“Seventy pounds a tube.” Reed transforms the screen into a vibrating musical instrument from the outset. The basis of this film is photography and a technical competence ahead of its time. The last shot before the Cafe Marc Aurel rendezvous is a brief pan followed without pause by a dolly-in, a similar shot closes the Louis XIV sequence in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Outcast of the Islands
A thoroughly bad lot abstracted to show his competence and his degradation.
An economic problem, his thievery is quickly sorted out, but how when you’ve cheated the general populace of their fortune?
For the record, a film situated absolutely between The Third Man and The Man Between.
Crowther thought he’d seen it before, tropical moonshine.
The Man Between
A remake of The Third Man for illustrative purposes, and set in Berlin for the same reason. The East has a hold on a dodgy Westerner who briefly serves its purposes. One of the most perfect examples of filmmaking, and one that shows a permanent concurrence with Hitchcock rivaling Lang’s. As clear as the example is, the profundity of the execution, with much information tacitly revealed and a final, complete revelation of character that is of very little help, served only to confuse a reviewer like Bosley Crowther instead of enlightening him.
When the New Order liquidated the law, there was the army, and that too was compromised. After the war, there is the black market to survive in, and therein lies the hold.
A young English girl (Claire Bloom) visits her brother (Geoffrey Toone), a medical officer in West Berlin, whose German wife (Hildegarde Neff) was married to the title character (James Mason), thought killed in the war but now as described an operative of the East helping to capture and smuggle certain persons across the frontier. As the film begins, he is on the track of a very able West German operative who goes “back and forth” with persons and information vital to the West.
The material is commandingly acknowledged in Torn Curtain.
A Kid For Two Farthings
The structure is very complex, which would account for the critical disregard if that weren’t a sine qua non with Reed, while the form is very simple, two movements suggesting a third, like Abt Vogler on the keys.
“Fashion Street”, Avrom Kandinsky the Trouser Maker calls it, the place of his despair.
The little boy who lives there buries his small pets one by one as they die, invariably. Small animals, small lives, Kandinsky tells him. The boy buys a one-horned kid under the impression that it’s a unicorn, unicorns grant wishes.
The first movement is a kind of prelude, the second puts Mr. Muscles against The Python in a needle match (cp. Flap), the prize money gets Muscles a junior partnership with Kandinsky, all the unicorn’s doing, but it too dies, leaving a gold sovereign (from Kandinsky), with which the boy proposes to buy a rhinoceros, because it has an even bigger wishing-horn (the third movement).
Actors say they look for one receptive face in the audience, writers say they write for a handful of readers, who does Carol Reed direct for?
Celia Johnson plays the boy’s mother, a despairing woman whose husband is setting up a farm in Africa interminably, critics have suggested she was miscast or her part underwritten.
Something as deeply written as this is not only rare, it comes along about as often as a Simon Gray works out Quartermaine’s Terms or what have you. It has never meant a word to critics.
There is a running joke on De Sica’s Miracolo a Milano with an elusive pigeon that sets the piece in its proper East End setting, but like the rest it was lost on professional observers.
Ken Russell picked up the material for Mahler and Valentino, likewise John Boorman for The Tailor of Panama.
The critical misunderstanding could not see the Cirque d’Hiver in the Sistine Chapel, and missed the point twice.
The mise en scène is a regular three-ring circus, and this too was overlooked.
The circus that is circus, not a side show or a common entertainment.
An abstraction of the war in its early stages (“1940 and 1941” into 1942), to get a highly artistic effect of it no doubt proceeding at first from the extremely delicate equation stated by Asquith in The Way to the Stars, and then the Americans come into it and the sky changes, not enough and not all at once, but the definite stance undoes the crippling fear and burden of death, this is represented among skippers of the Salvage Service towing convoy ships to port under fire, and in a woman ashore who is a casualty herself in a way, with the men she has lost.
Bosley Crowther noted the book had been changed, and disapproved, and said so, persuading his New York Times readers that he hadn’t understood the film at all, in any way, it might be assumed. Variety was generally favorable. Time Out Film Guide sees “a fascinating romantic melodrama being buried within a stolidly conventional war film,” Halliwell’s Film Guide “little real feeling.”
The drama of The Key depends very little on the exact reason for the woman’s departure, Foreman’s version is even better that the one Crowther described, anyway it’s the one Reed filmed, with no idea of passing the buck.
Our Man in Havana
Completely arbitrary, fanciful descriptions by film critics show that Reed had not only ceased to be understood long since, he could no longer be seen. The tale of an English vacuum cleaner salesman who takes a job with British Intelligence to give his daughter a better life elsewhere ends with him murdering a business rival, he gets a knighthood for this incidentally and a position in London training station chiefs, but the matter is decided in the details (he fabricated a spy network that was not only believed in London but got a close friend killed by the adverse party). Much of this is reconstituted as The Tailor of Panama by John Boorman, a film more highly thought of among critics. The unique characterizations and performances achieved by Reed’s cast are variously slighted and ignored, and here again is the originality.
The Running Man
This is one of the ways in which Ernst Lubitsch’s That Uncertain Feeling becomes Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman, not to mention Lubitsch’s original, Kiss Me Again, nor Huston’s The Mackintosh Man, for example. The technique encompasses both The Third Man and Our Man in Havana most tellingly, critics were averse, as is their wont. In particular, and most particular in view of the particular genius of this film (you will note that the insurance grafter becomes a supercilious hick, and the insurance investigator a traveller in quick-drying paint), Time Out Film Guide calls it “an extremely routine thriller”. The consequences for Reed’s next film, The Agony and the Ecstasy, cannot be avoided.
Halliwell’s Film Guide has no use for it, Variety was more intelligent.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
A full-scale reduplication of the Sistine Chapel allows the thing to be seen status quo ante. Reed builds the scaffolding, re-creates the stages of giornate through the seasons. He places Charlton Heston on a mountaintop in Carrara to depict inspiration. After this, he throws the light on Rex Harrison in a soft-shoe, leaving Heston clair-obscured. Reed has his only film possible at one remove from the novel, of which this is “A Carol Reed Production”.
Three acts, Workhouse-Fagin-Brownlow (Sowerberry and Magistrate interludes), the third act settles the dispute with Bill Sikes. The foundation is Lean’s Oliver Twist, which is magnified in Panavision and Technicolor. The choreography is taken up from Fokine’s ballet Petrushka (perhaps by way of Kelly’s for An American in Paris) and is structural in its analysis of boisterous businesslike Cockneys (among whom policemen, clergymen and paperboys are rather silly) or the gallantry of life on the Crescent (hawkers, tradespeople, maids, ladies and gentlemen). Reed’s themes are in evidence (The Fallen Idol, The Third Man, A Kid For Two Farthings and so on). A better-received film than is customary for this director.
Flapping Eagle, who has a horse that can’t be rode named H-Bomb and a job carrying Japanese-manufactured kachina dolls in his pickup from town to trading post among other things (coals to Tynecastle per The Stars Look Down) and lives on a reservation, and why make an American film there and not regale the natives with their own comedy, their very own, the spécialité de la maison?
The enmity of the county police, the ancient rights and realm, cf. John Ford’s The Rising of the Moon. “I’m pissed off,” he drunkenly exclaims, full to overflowing with tribal moonshine and sounding like Eufemio in Kazan’s Viva Zapata!. The transfiguring view from the bottom of a glass, cf. Hitchcock’s Champagne, “l’amour, toujours l’amour” the female chorus sings.
He has a whiskey-watering madam to his mistress (Shelley Winters from Pollack’s The Scalphunters), fiercely jealous but slippery as hell, “I’m a professional!” He makes certain “revolutionary” inroads and is quelled with a long shot from a high window. A comedy of covenants, sacred and otherwise. The freight train caper (with dancing and horses from Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia) is a feature of David Moessinger’s “Project Phoenix” (dir. Richard T. Heffron for Banacek). A real Western fight with a cowardly constable (cf. Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway, but also A Kid for Two Farthings). Lonely Are the Brave is cited, David Miller repays the compliment à la Hitchcock in Executive Action. “What are you guys smokin’? Musta been a secret message, you even burned the blanket afterward.” The final departure for town recalls Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Cp. Passport to Pimlico (dir. Henry Cornelius), Viva Max (dir. Jerry Paris).
By the author of Keller’s Seven Ways from Sundown, Siegel’s Flaming Star, Coleman’s Posse from Hell, Douglas’ Rio Conchos, Day’s Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Kennedy’s The War Wagon, McLaglen’s Hellfighters and so forth, décor Art Loel, cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp, score Marvin Hamlisch.
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “the decline of Carol Reed since Outcast of the Islands is too obvious to be belabored,” the comic face of whom is the missing link between Nigel Green and Rita Tushingham.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times, “finally, at long last, there comes a movie about the plight of today’s American Indian that is as funny as it is moving.” Time Out, “a feeble comedy.” TV Guide, “Warner Brothers [a Kinney National Company] kept the film in a vault for 18 months before releasing it; too bad it didn’t have a chance to decay. Flap got its just reward, though, by becoming a $6-million flop.” Britmovie, “the critics were quick to advise the company on what a poor investment it had made, filmgoers clearly agreed with the majority critical view on The Last Warrior, and, after a brief flurry of bookings, the picture was withdrawn from circulation.” Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “marginally significant”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “not very entertaining”.
The Public Eye
In England, significantly, it’s Follow Me!, to point up the irony. Peter Shaffer’s playlet is set up for the screen as the most beautiful analysis of Shaw, Shaw on Shakespeare, ever (and with apologies to Ebert, who had the worst day any critic has ever had, when nothing seems right at all). Arms and the Man (dir. Philip Casson) for the Macaroon Dick, followed by Mr Scrampton as Alf Doolittle. Leading by degrees to a cousin of Pinter’s The Collection (dir. Michael Apted). The triumvirate of leading players is a Holy Trinity founded on Goethe’s dramatic categories, no less. Michael Jayston is note-perfect in the Shavian role of the chartered accountant, Mia Farrow downgrades her romantic Englishwoman in Losey’s Secret Ceremony for a half-acclimated L.A. hippie, Topol essays the Grecian Love Streams (dir. John Cassavetes) double.
Reed’s direction is as it always is, accomplished on the technical side with here perhaps a remembrance of Ford & LeRoy’s Mister Roberts in the temporal accommodation of three different acting styles at once, for rationality’s sake.