Monday, 30 September 2013

Male Fashions: The Bow Tie

As noted in my review of Adam & Evelyne, the bow-tie is often the mark of a rather dodgy individual in British films of the mid-20th century. Whilst I was growing up I associated them with doctors (probably influenced by James Robertson Justice in any number of medical roles). Also the bow tie was most often seen worn with dinner suits, hardly the most proletarian outfit ("the uniform of reaction" as one of my friends used to refer to dinner suits).

To support my argument here are some notable examples:

Fred Johnson as a crooked jockey in 'Adam & Evelyne'

Sid James as a member of a crooked gambling syndicate in 'Belles of St Trinians'

crooked gambling syndicate in 'Belles of St Trinians'

Billy Hartnell as a race-track villain in Brighton Rock

Dodgy jockey in 'Brothers in Law'

Jack Warner as a black marketer in Hue & Cry

A workshy loafer (for want of a better description) in Major Barbara

Sydney Tafler as a bookmaker in Passport to Pimlico

Richard Attenborough as an army deserter and art thief in 'Private's Progress'

Alastair Sim as the founder of the school of 'one upmanship' in 'School for Scoundrels'
Ian Carmichael after learning the dubious skills of one-upmanship in 'School for Scoundrels'

Cecil Parker as a criminal in 'The Ladykillers'

Alastair Sim as an assassin in 'The Green Man'

Stanley Holloway as a gambler in 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'

Smuggler, black marketer and murderer in Blackout (1950)

Terry-Thomas as a tax dodging businessman in 'Too Many Crooks'

Adam and Evelyne (1949)
This was the film that brought Stewart Granger and Jean Simmonds together on screen for the second time (the first being Caesar and Cleopatra four years earlier) and ignited the spark of romance that led to their marriage a year later. It also marked Granger's final British film before leaving for Hollywood and becoming a truly international star.

Jean Simmonds & Stewart Granger

It is effectively a coming of age story in which a young girl

Jean Simmonds
Jean Simmonds
Evelyne Wallace (Simmonds) who has been brought up in an orphanage, blossoms into a beautiful young lady who captures the heart of Adam Black (Granger), a charming rogue who runs an illegal gambling club. She is reunited with what she believes to be her long-lost father, Adam Black. However, her real father was a crooked jockey who had been a wartime comrade of Adam.
This storyline is where the film falls down. The audience isn't certain whether they are watching a drama or a not particularly funny screwball comedy. There are moments where it is light-hearted and other points where the drama is emphasised. In the end, the audience isn't certain. Despite these shortcoming the film has a certain charm and remains watchable. There are also some good lines from Granger who describes a hangover as being:
"When your stomach gets its revenge for what you did to it the night before."
One thing that catches the eye is a lengthy scene in the middle of the film in which Adam shows Evelyne around London. However, in what appears to be an effort to save time and money, neither Granger of Simmonds appear in the scenes. Instead the audience sees only their feet:

The film is also worth noting for an early appearance by Irene Handl:
Stewart Granger & Irene Handl

and a 'blink and you'll miss it' appearance of Dora Bryan in an uncredited role as a shop assistant.
Dora Bryan
As readers of this blog will know, we are interested in how fashions of the day are reflected in films. In this scene we are introduced to Chris Kirby (Fred Johnson), Evelyne's real father. He's a crooked jockey who takes a fall to fix a horserace.
Fred Johnson
How do we know he's crooked? His bow tie. Whilst the modern world sees the bow tie as a symbol of wealth and class, in the mid-20th century bow ties were associated with criminals, bookmakers and the whole horseracing fraternity - who were usually closely linked to crime, especially in the minds of film makers.
Similarly, Adam Black is referred to by his friends as 'Colonel' whether he was a real colonel is debatable although we do know he spent the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Whatever the truth, he certainly presents the British cinematic image of a retired army officer, this being conveyed by his wearing of a 'British Warm' overcoat:

Helen Cherry & Stewart Granger
It is also worth noting a subplot relating to Granger's moustache and whether he looks better with it or without it:

I'll let you be the judge!

This rather impressively coloured French poster is currently available from poster dealer Greg Edwards:


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Death Drives Through (1935)
Filmed at the legendary Brooklands motor racing circuit, Death Drives Through tells the story of two friends - Kit Woods )played by Robert Douglas) and John 'Nigger' Larson (played by Frank Atkinson) who design a new engine for racing cars, only  for their design to be stolen by Douglas's love-rival, fellow racing driver Gary Ames (played by Miles Mander).
Robert Douglas & Frank Atkinson

Miles Mander
The object of the two men's affections is Kay Lord, played by Chili Bouchier, a British actress described variously as 'British cinema's first sex symbol' and 'Britain's answer to Clara Bow'.
Chili Bouchier
I won't go into details of the plot (written by the young John Huston), but as you might imagine, it isn't the most challenging storyline.
However, there are a few points to note:
The shots of the motor racing and the exterior crowd scenes shot at Brooklands are fascinating as a historical document ...

...however for some curious reason the producers decided to insert some rather unconvincing crash scenes. The first crash shows a very basic model crashing on the track:
However, this is followed up with genuine footage of a crash that even shows the driver's body thrown from the car and sliding down the track:

With such good footage available one wonders why the model shot was used at all since it adds nothing to the scene. A similar shot is used in the closing race scenes and somewhat devalues the other far more authentic shots elsewhere in the film:
Genuine race footage

Model shot
Maybe they wee inspired by a scene set in a club for racing drivers in which the drivers play on a giant Scalextric set:
The standard of the production leaves rather a lot to be desired with one sequence including the shadow of the camera appearing on the actors:
Robert Douglas & Chili Bouchier
and the shadow of the microphone boom appearing in the background:
Also of note were a couple of cheeky jokes played by the production team: We are shown bookmakers taken bets on the race.

Two of the listed drivers are Clifford and Taylor. The name of the film's producer? Clifford Taylor. Then a board displays the race positions, including a driver named Chown, another member of the crew.
Robert Douglas
Of further interest is the career of Robert Douglas: after a less than spectacular film career he moved into television before making the move behind the camera. He eventually directed episodes of programmes such as Mission Impossible, Columbo and Quincy, before retiring at the age of 73 after directing an episode of Fame.
Chili Bouchier also had a long career, working on stage in London into her eighties.
Death Drives Through is currently available on DVD in Volume 3 of Network DVD's Ealing Studios Rarities Collection.

The Ware Care (1938)
Although not produced under the Ealing Studios name, The Ware Case was the second film to be produced by Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios and, as such, is often recognised as being one of the starting points for that studio's legendary output. It's another of those rarely seen British films of the 1930s which is now re-available courtesy of Network DVD and Studio Canal.
The film tells the story of Sir Hubert Ware (played by Clive Brook) who is on trial for murder. 
Clive Brook
The murder scene
He is accused of committing the murder in order to inherit money to pay off his mounting debts and thus avoid bankruptcy. This is man whose creditors seem to be mainly jewellers, tailors and others who provide him the image which is so important to him. How does he avoid his creditors and his mounting debts? He heads to the south of France where he bounces cheques, then loses the fraudulently obtained money in a casino.
Sir Hubert (Clive Brook) with his tailor Munnings (played by Wallace Evennett)
Of course, this being a 1930s British drama, Sir Hubert's long-suffering wife Meg (played by Jane Baxter) is in love with someone, her husband's barrister friend Mike (played by Barry K. Barnes).
Jane Baxter & Barry K. Barnes
To be honest, Meg would have been better off running off with Mike long ago - apart from gambling, passing cheques he can't honour and running up endless debts, Sir Hubert has a string of affairs and generally treats Meg with contempt. For most of the film he appears to be a thoroughly nasty man, who describes himself as an egotist, and who would never do anything in life unless it suited him. Even when he cashes the cheque in the casino and the cashier tells him that he will lose his job if the cheque bounces, Sir Hubert carries on and  takes the money.
Clive Brook
And yet, despite his faults - and even when he is cited in a divorce case - Meg sticks by him.
Jane Baxter & Clive Brook
I won't spoil the ending since I honestly couldn't decide whether he was guilty or not. Even the repeated images of Sir Hubert viewed through bars (such as in the casino) and on the stairs of his London flat ...

... didn't convince me that he was guilty. I kept thinking it might be a red herring. Was it? I'm not telling - you'll just have to buy the DVD.
Other points of interest:
The film was directed by Robert Stevenson who later moved to the USA and directed such films as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, That Darn Cat and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.
The cast includes Ealing regular John Laurie as Sir Hubert's embittered gamekeeper. I noted that he wears a button-down collar shirt, something that was rather rare in 1930s England:
John Laurie
He also wears a belt-back jacket, which was a popular fashion item for young men in the 1930s and which, according to vintage clothing collectors, are incredibly rare, with very few having survived. So it's nice to see that Barry K. Barnes also wears one:
Barry K.Barnes & Clive Brook
For the lovers of period fashion, it's also interesting to see the sports shirt worn by Barnes:
Barry K. Barnes
 One light-hearted touch is when Sir Hubert meets a woman on the train to the south of France. A rather glorious woman, she wears acres of jewellery, a veiled hat and has a rather large fur muff in which she conceals a small dog:

By the next scene she has become Sir Hubert's latest lover (the woman, not the dog!).