Nell Gwynn

Two of the courtiers look on abstemiously yet bitterly at the earlier stages of the wooing, add Lady Castlemaine’s fashionable jealousy and the film is made all the way to Spring in Park Lane.

The New York Times reported that it was “said to be the first British feature picture presented here,” praised the cast led by Dorothy Gish, and in a general way the skill and concentration of the direction, focused on the players to the exclusion of all else save, briefly, “a bed of solid silver.”

A lady betrayed by her hat, outdoing the opposition (cf. Rossellini’s La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV, whence John Cleese in The Taming of the Shrew, dir. Jonathan Miller).

Halliwell’s Film Guide forgets this version, Variety reviewing the later one disparaged it as “generally unsympathetic”.



Bitter Sweet

A film that once again shows British filmmakers the equal of any at this time. Wilcox devotes a good deal of attention to set dressing, and still more to costumes. Over all is applied a virtuosic lighting that combines sculptural detail and pointed naturalism to a high degree. All this gives him a tight range of effects that he whips up with strong camerawork into an amazing, brilliant film.

The opening is a remarkable traveling shot through dresses and knees at a contemporary cocktail party (as the camera passes the jazz band, you see that one of the players has a second instrument on his lap). The initial flashback shot bathes Anna Neagle in a light that, even in a contrasty print, is breathtaking to the point of embarrassment over the film’s success compared with so many attempts and imitations, and much of the film is the same way.

Wilcox builds up his effects delicately, never allowing himself to go outside the film at any moment. “I’ll See You Again” is filmed in one medium shot as a solo and one close-up as a duet, without camera movement. Neagle’s abscondment is a tour de force of all the preceding elements and the type of continuous cross-panning Godard uses in Alphaville. In another song, Wilcox simply pulls back to give Neagle room to prance, then closes in for the cuddle with Gravey, the light pouring over the blinds gives this shot the freshness of the Nouvelle Vague, and Wilcox’ mise en scène is so enchanting, and at the same time authoritatively lifelike, it makes for some subtle and telling effects of naturalism in the acting that aren’t seen very often, if at all.

At the other end of this naturalism is the stage artifice of the flashback’s close, which fuses the showbiz aspect of the material and carries the title to a structural purpose.

In between are a profusion of rare and beautiful shots, like the long take of Neagle and St. Helier’s conversation, which becomes another scene at Gravey’s arrival, the drinking song with a 360º pan around the restaurant that stops and then spins rapidly before resting where it began, and most stunning, St. Helier’s “If Love Were All” number, which accompanies some really acute juggling by Wilcox with a slambang finish. It’s a rare triumph of editing, in which the cutaways to St. Helier singing are exactly matched to the silent drama at the table, something Peckinpah achieved in The Wild Bunch, what happens in the time away from a shot is exactly conveyed when it is resumed.

Not the least of its many attractions is the key to Noel Coward’s success. The operetta has evidently been painstakingly retooled for film, and the result is that whatever charms it has are fully translated. Vincente Minnelli spent many years working out the implications of it, some of which extend to Bergman and Fellini, the Truffaut of Tirez sur le pianiste, and Ken Russell (The Boy Friend, etc.).


Sixty Glorious Years

The reign of Queen Victoria. The many points are mainly geared to an understanding of precedents for British dilatoriness, sometimes combined with great fervor, in the face of the impending disaster.

“An exercise in the creation of iconography” (British Film Institute). Halliwell records his opinion as “fascinating”, and cites Variety in addition, “one of the most artistic and expressive films made in England.”


Nurse Edith Clavell

Wilcox reserves his art for the trial and ending, and even then is very sparing of it for a good reason. It’s a picture, that trial, but the dolly-out to the firing squad is mercifully brief. The final apotheosis at Westminster Abbey is accomplished by a device known from Rouben Mamoulian’s Queen Christina to Douglas Hickox’ Zulu Dawn. The final portrait of Miss Clavell that appears out of the darkness of history is one of such normalcy as to take you aback.

This is to an amazing degree the model for Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. It might even be said that it took twenty years and Stanley Kubrick to surpass the image of Miss Clavell and her circle of good ladies facing military justice.


No, No, Nanette

The title gives the answer to three questions that devolve upon the pivotal character of Tom Gillespie, who makes a living painting nudes but aspires to portraits and yet is no artist without the muse.

Apples don’t fall far from the tree in Mrs. Smith’s yard, they don’t fall, period. Each one is named by her for an astrological sign or whatnot, “parents have nothing to do with birth,” she tells Gillespie. The house starves with a million in the bank.

The source is taken to be a stinging jellyfish remark by Jane Austen on Georgie Porgie. Uncle “Happy” Jimmy Smith has a philosophy, Nanette brings it to fruition.

The monkey puzzle is stripped bare of many accouterments in the musical and Wilcox’ style (Crowther took stock of the one and ignored the other), Stone’s Hi Diddle Diddle is rather anticipated as a result, and in another sense Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (dir. Joseph Anthony) beforehand in its first incarnation, The Merchant of Yonkers.



Anglo-Irish daughter of the show business meets American aristocrat (motorcars) at Mardi Gras, her circus and his relatives don’t mix, fortunately Aunt Baba learned everything from the Maharajah except how to find the brakes on a steamboat, and she’s the captain.

Kern & Harbach & Hammerstein in swing time with Martha Tilton.

Never mind the mention of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Shaw’s Pygmalion, critics missed the recapitulation of Dumas’ Camille (Anna Neagle, with Edward Everett Horton as the family lawyer) amongst everything else and found only a “typical operetta Cinderella tale” (Variety, which praised John Carroll) that was “conventional, sweet and humorless” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times, who praised Ray Bolger).


Yellow Canary

The beautiful effect of form allows this variant of Huston’s Across the Pacific to despair of itself and then, two-thirds seen, reveal to the minds of the audience and not their eyes the truth about “a true Nazi” expelled from Britain to Halifax during the war.

According to Britmovie, this rather Hitchcockian (cp. Notorious) masterpiece with its exquisite camerawork is a “melodramatic wartime thriller”, and this was Variety’s remark, “direction, cast, production, and camerawork are so good it is a pity the suspenseful story is not on the same plane of excellence.”

She toasts “the New Order” and recalls the destruction of Halifax in 1917, Bucquet’s The Adventures of Tartu takes the trick, Henry King’s Marie Galante is indicated. A tour de force of the cinema on one of British Intelligence (the RCMP and RCAF finish the job).

“Sprightly” Time Out Film Guide justly observes, “mild wartime melodrama” Halliwell’s Film Guide does not.


I Live in Grosvenor Square

It shouldn’t be possible for a film to exceed the taciturnity of Asquith’s The Way to the Stars when it comes to expressing the daintiness of life under wartime conditions in England, and perhaps Wilcox has only attained the same point of view, right at the end of his film, just as Asquith does. The title means the Eisenhowerplatz in both senses, alive and memorious.

“Herbert Wilcox’s direction is perfect,” to say the least, says Variety. Other critics disagree, quite noisily. Bosley Crowther fussily natters at it in his New York Times review for lacking “greater depth and originality”, Halliwell says “sloppily-made”, the BFI has a tendency toward wishing it away to get back to its politics, whatever they are, Time Out Film Guide says “quaint... as a Mickey Mouse gas mask.”


Piccadilly Incident

A certain embarrassment remains after I Live in Grosvenor Square, the situation has its comic side, there is tragicomic intensity in Wilcox’ reading of it, given as a decision from the bench in a case at law, the circumstances make a lengthy flashback that is the film. The Royal Marine’s second spouse is a true portrait of an American wife. The Canadian sailor is a fine, somewhat more generalized portrait, for reasons of plot.

A film highly regarded (though not by the tyro at the New York Times) and nearly understood by the British Film Institute, which could not fathom the legal mechanics.

Wilcox sorts the matter out in Elizabeth of Ladymead.


Spring in Park Lane

It is made of such things as Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story and La Cava’s My Man Godfrey, and goes its way into Wyler’s How to Steal a Million (Hitchcock borrows the ending for The Man Who Knew Too Much). Part of the excellence of style is the arrangement of the score by Robert Farnon.

An uncommonly fine and keen satire of the bloated ass and the vaporous twit, where satire becomes poetry and the Marquis of Borechester a very sad fellow hopelessly husbanding his lettuce, and the fidgeting film star Basil Maitland finally comes into focus at the palais de danse.

Fred Astaire almost simultaneously danced in slow-motion, as Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding do here.

“England still is England” as carefully defined by Rupert Brooke, and Wilcox more formally comes to the point in Elizabeth of Ladymead, the gradual point must be addressed at once however and he does so here, starting with the paradisal fountain at the end of Hamilton’s Battle of Britain, America is thanked and thanked again, the episode acknowledged as leading to a happy result without any expectation.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found it British but “good fun, nonetheless.Variety noted the skill, “it seems like a happy improvisation... incident upon incident carry merry laughter through the picture.Halliwell’s Film Guide records it as “flimsy” but “still pretty entertaining.”


Elizabeth of Ladymead

How the English got together after winning World War II. The construction anticipates Losey’s The Go-Between, Resnais’ Providence and Reisz’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and recalls MacDonald’s This England as well as Sewell’s The Ghosts of Berkeley Square etc., with a rich negotiation of Technicolor’s requirements across an animated script in four temporal dimensions.



An extremely advanced film that left critics in its wake, on a minor figure in the special forces who carried a valise under German eyes, it contained the plans of Marseilles harbor and was vital to the invasion, this intelligence coup in southeast France was answered by the Abwehr, she was captured, tortured and sent under sentence of death to Ravensbrück.

“The whole film is bogged down by a surfeit of respect and patriotism,” says Geoff Andrew in Time Out Film Guide, to one’s astonishment. Equally blind is Halliwell’s Film Guide, which flouts the evidence of its own eyes by speaking of “generally uninspired handling.Similarly, the matter escaped Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, the technique Variety.


Derby Day

The winner is milady’s horse, she’s been saving it up since milord died in a plane crash with the caricaturist’s girl.

There’s a case of murder in it, or something like that, not too far from Sydney Pollack’s Random Hearts (they never met).

Critics maintained there was no cogency to this, having no feeling for it.

Among the millions of their readers, a general consensus is thereby obtainable.

Frankenheimer has this for a model of ingenuity in Grand Prix, though of course Wilcox has his own ideas and probably gets cut after a premiere briefly mentioned amongst the many cracks directed at “the British film industry”. The critics were all at lunch or at sea or something, so Asquith among others filled in.

“Deeply unchallenging” (Time Out Film Guide).


Trent’s Last Case

Wilcox’ wizard masterpiece on the demise of a Southern American gentleman in England, a man fond of “international financial juggling”, the circumstances are suspicious to say the least. Trent is a newspaper reporter who happily resumes painting after this. The poor bugger planned to frame his amorous secretary for the deed, in love with his wife and that sort of thing. No stopping him, and her uncle tried. Philip Trent, neither on the force nor in private practice but one of the cinema’s greatest dicks. Margaret Lockwood, Michael Wilding, Orson Welles.


Lilacs in the Spring

The Blitz, V-1s, 1944.

Nell Gwynn’s Chelsea Hospital, Queen Victoria’s introduction of the waltz, talking pictures, Burma.

The waltz as a popular dance and one at court is an example of Wilcox at his most discerning and able. He is au courant with Hollywood and takes the film there, in a producer’s office, on a sound stage, beside the pool.

Charles is a giddy joke, Victoria much more refined, the musical stage 1913-25 and to the war very well studied, with a moderate debt to Wellman in A Star Is Born (Cukor’s film premiered the same year).

Much too good for England, a work of genius that puzzled poor Halliwell no end.