Tuesday, 31 December 2013


Another of Gainsborough Studios wonderfully melodramatic Gothic romances, Caravan has everything that the viewer might expect:

It’s a tale of thwarted love between childhood sweethearts Richard Darrell and Oriana Camperdene (Stewart Granger & Anne Crawford) ...
... who are separated by the fiendish Sir Francis Castleton (Dennis Price) ...
... who marries Oriana after his assistant Wycroft (Robert Helpmann) organises Richard’s murder whilst on a trip to Spain. After Wycroft botches the killing ...
... Richard is nursed back to health by Rosal (Jean Kent) a gypsy dancer.

This being Gainsborough we have: a woman prepared to sacrifice herself for the man she loves …

… a heavy emphasis on sex …


… an evily manipulative villain …

… and death by quicksand.


Not forgetting a hero who could have set the standard for every Mills & Boon man that followed. Let’s face it, we all know someone for whom a blood-drenched Stewart Granger - shirt open to the waist, clad in figure-hugging trousers and wielding a whip - is the epitome of male sexuality.


Yet it’s not Granger who steals the show. There is only one star shining at their brightest in Caravan: the late, great Jean Kent.


She may never have been the greatest actress (although she certainly proved herself to be a very good actress) but she was unrivalled when it came to being a sex symbol in a supporting role. As she later said 'If producers opened a script and read, ‘A girl appears in cami-knickers,’ they sent for me.”
For the uninitiated, only familiar with modern actresses, don’t think Kiera Knightly – think Gemma Arterton: an actress happy to play (and capable of playing) a complete sauce-pot. In taking the role of Rosal, the gypsy dancer, Kent propelled herself into serious sex-symbol territory. After all, this was the role turned down by Britain’s greatest-ever sex symbol Margaret Lockwood, as being a step too far.

So in celebration of her recent passing at the age of 92, here’s Jean as we knew and loved her:

Goodbye Jean: Not that I believe in heaven, but if there is one, I'm sure you are up there (as your 1940s self) brightening up a celestial film-set.
Also to note:
The future BBC Radio Disc Jockey Pete Murray appears as a waiter:

This poster from the film's US release is currently available from the 'Rare Film Posters from Greg Edwards' website. (It's a long-established company. I've bought a number of posters from him over the years and the service is very good):

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Eureka Stockade (1949)

Eureka Stockade is one of the films made in Australia by Ealing Studios in the late 1940s. Telling the true story of events surrounding a rebellion by gold miners in 1854, it was written by director Harry Watt, Ralph Smart (who later directed Bitter Springs) and British author Walter Greenwood, best known for his 1930s novel of unemployed life in northern England, Love on the Dole.
The events portrayed in the film are seen by many as being a key turning point for the development of Australian democracy and identity, with the film makers equating this with the Magna Carta or the American Declaration of Independence.
What is so impressive is that the film makers did not simply present the miners as the downtrodden masses, struggling to make a living. Instead, the story is balanced. The impact of the 1851 Gold Rush, which saw people abandoning their homes and farms ...
... in search of fortune, is shown to the viewers. The scenes of dead animals, empty towns, rat infested shops and abandoned ships ...

... gives the audience some sympathy for the authorities who are trying to quell the rush to the goldfields. The balance between the need for stability and the attempts to prevent new arrivals being fully integrated into Australian society is not overplayed and the audience aren't preached at. Instead, they are allowed to understand the situation for both the miners...
... and the authorities:
Jack Lambert as Police Commissioner Rede
The balance of views is also shown by the relationship between miners leader, Peter Lalor (Chips Rafferty) and his future wife Alicia Dunne (Jane Barrett). When she talks about the actions of the gold miners in abandoning everything in the search for gold she says: "The decent things in life have been abandoned."
Jane Barrett & Chips Rafferty
The audience is also shown the struggle of the miners as they are forced to pay for licences to mine and tells how recent arrivals, eager to settle down and start farming, are refused permission to buy land. The exploitation of the miners is also balanced by showing the brutality of the mob as they burn down a hotel with its staff inside.
Police confront the mob
The story follows miner Peter Lalor (played by Chips Rafferty) ...
Chips Rafferty
... as he struggles with the system, wanting nothing more than to make some money until such a time as he can buy some land of his own. His personal qualities thrust him into the limelight as the miner's grow increasingly rebellious. At first he desires nothing more than reform of the laws. It is only following the extreme reaction of the authorities, and the arrival of the army, that his is forced to take the path of armed rebellion.

The rebellion sees the miners defeated but those arrested (including a bearded Peter Finch) ...
Peter Finch
... are acquitted by a jury. The events lead to changes in law and see Peter Lalor finally able to settle down with his wife and establish their farm.
The real Peter Lalor went on to become the only one of the rebels to win a seat in the Australian parliament.
The film is currently available in Volume 7 of the Ealing Studios Rarities Collection:
For more details on the real events surrounding the rebellion at Eureka Stockade, click here.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Birds of Prey (1930)

Directed by Basil Dean from a screenplay based on an A.A. Milne play, The Fourth Wall, this is one of those early British films which struggles to escape its theatrical origins. With cameras that pan between static actors as they recite their lines, actors and actresses who play to camera as if playing to an audience rather than each other, and rather stilted dialogue, Birds of Prey isn't one of the best examples of 1930s British cinema. That said, it's good to see it finally available as part of  Volume 4 of Network DVD's Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, a collection that sets out to reissue all of the previously unavailable output from Ealing Studios:

The story revolves around the murder of Arthur Hilton (played by C. Aubrey Smith) by two men he had arrested many years before whilst working as a policeman in Africa. Under new identities the men Carter and Laverick (played by Robert Loraine and Warwick Ward) return to murder Hilton.
C. Aubrey Smith

Robert Loraine

Warwick Ward
 It's one of those curious mystery movies in which there is no mystery: we are told the identity of one of the murderers in the opening scene and then see the crime being committed. The drama unfolds as two young lovers, Jimmy Hilton and Molly (Frank Lawton and Dorothy Boyd) ... 
Dorothy Boyd and Frank Lawton
... are frustrated by police incompetence and set out to solve the murder. The way they go about solving the murder is the essence of the film and is, to be fair, rather entertaining. Does it make up for some of the hammy acting?
Warwick Ward
I'll leave that for others to be the judge.
It was interesting to see jack Hawkins in his very first screen role (playing a member of domestic staff at Mr Hilton's home) and Nigel Bruce in one of his earliest credited screen roles:
Jack Hawkins & Nigel Bruce
Whilst Hawkins and Bruce were at the beginning of long and illustrious screen careers, Robert Loraine (who died in 1935) was at the end of a long theatrical career. Even more interesting than his long experience on the stage was his military career: Loraine served in the British Army during the Boer War, then trained as a pilot, serving in the First World War in the Royal Flying Corps and winning the Military Cross. He is also credited as being the first person to use the word 'joystick' to refer to an aircraft's controls.
Robert Loraine
Seven Days to Noon (1950)
Barry Jones
More than 30 years ago I bought a book about the fifty greatest ever British films. Among those selected was Seven Days to Noon, and that I have finally seen it I realise it fully deserves its reputation. It amazing that it has taken so long for me to see it, although in the days when home video was too pricey for most of us (and video shops only sold horror, porn, martial arts and cheap action films) and I wasn't at home in the afternoon to watch re-runs of classics, it's no real surprise it evaded my viewing. It was worth the wait.

It's the story of a British nuclear scientist, Professor Willingdon ...

... who has a crisis of conscience and goes on the run with a stolen nuclear weapon. He then threatens to detonate the weapon in London, giving the government seven days to renounce nuclear weapons or see the capital destroyed.

Professor Willingdon (Barry Jones) contemplates extinction

The film follows the police as Superintendent Folland of Special Branch (Andre Morell) ...
Andre Morell
... teams up with Professor Willingdon's daughter Ann (Sheila Manahan) and his assistant Stephen Lane (Hugh Cross) in an attempt to track him down.

Sheila Manahan

Hugh Cross

The tension remains high throughout as the rumours fly as to why there is so much civil defence activity in the city. Eventually the government is forced to evacuate London and call in the army for a house-to-house search of the entire capital.

What makes the film so good is it's lack of stars. The decision not to cast big stars in lead roles gives the film an almost documentary feel. Indeed, it's no surprise that the film makers credited the people of London for their role in making the film so impressive:

The scenes of London as it is evacuated are a triumph: convoys of cars, trains and buses travelling through city streets and country lanes; endless streams of cyclists with rucksacks and camping gear heading into the countryside; patient queues of evacuees waiting at railway stations. And once they have gone, another star shines: the city itself. The scenes of empty streets, occupied only by abandoned pets, gives London a whole new image, making Seven Days to Noon one of the greatest ever London films.

And the introduction of martial law, leading to the inevitable death of looters, has a genuine power:

Indeed, the fatalism of many of the minor characters, as they grow to accept the inevitability of war, seems to reflect the realities of a generation which had grown used to death and destruction and for whom the trauma of disruption and evacuation - with the likelihood of seeing their homes destroyed - was nothing new.

It's also worth noting the appearance of two genuine radio announcers (Frederick Allen of the BBC and Merrill Mueller of NBC), playing themselves, which helps to reinforce the almost documentary feel of the film ...
Frederick Allen

Merrill Mueller
... although it's also interesting to note the visual difference between the rather formal Englishman and the casual American.

Along with it's lack of big stars, the makers took the decision not to cast a glamorous female lead. The choice of Sheila Manahan (later to be the wife of actor, Fulton Mackay) as Professor Willingdon's daughter was brave. In an era when glamour girls were everywhere, Manahan was plain, dowdy and perfectly suited to the subject matter.
Sheila Manahan

With it's lack of female glamour, the audience instead gets two of those great staples of mid-20th century cinema: the widowed, cat loving, boarding house landlady ...

Joan Hickson
... and the fading actress, still struggling to come to terms with the fact she is no longer the young starlet:

Olive Sloane

So who else appears:

Bruce Seton (centre)

Geoffrey Keen

Ronald Adam as the Prime Minister

Russell Waters

Sam Kydd (left)

Wyndham Goldie

Victor Maddern

Marie Ney

The obligatory Spiv offering hotel rooms to evacuees

... and a 21 year old Joss Ackland in only his second (and uncredited) film role.

Amidst the tension I spotted what I assume to be a sneaky joke thrown in by the film makers:

Professor Willingdon stands outside a theatre beside a poster that reads: In the Nude - Fun For All the Family

Barry Jones

Not most people's idea of family fun in 1950, I'm sure!

So if you want to see what is almost certainly one of the greatest ever British films, don't do what I did and wait for thirty years, just buy a copy. It's available as part of the Boulting Brothers collection. You won't regret it.

This wonderful German poster is currently available from film poster dealer Greg Edwards: