So Long At The Fair (1950)
I found this film as part of a boxset of British 'Film Noir'. I read the description on the box, that informed me that it was a tale of a brother and sister travelling to Paris to visit the 1986 World Exposition, and was immediately sceptical.
|Jean Simmons & David Tomlinson as Vicky and Johnny Barton|
This just didn't seem to be the conventional setting for film noir. Why not Paris in winter 1946, a woman travelling to France to find out about the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend in wartime Paris, only to discover that he'd been a black-marketer Nazi double agent? That would seem more like it. But no, we are transported to 1890s Paris where everyone seems to be having a good time. Nothing dark or mysterious going on:
|Jean Simmons & David Tomlinson|
And then suddenly it turns: on the first night Johnny Barton closes his bedroom door, the shadows close in, the mood changes from light to dark ...
... and Johnny disappears - forever. The film follows his sister's quest to find him as she faces hotel owners and staff who declare that he never existed, leaving her lost and alone in the city with no one to help her. So far, so noir.
I'm glad to admit that I was wrong: film noir is so much more than setting and period. There's absolutely no reason that a woman all alone, trapped in a web of deception in Victorian France should be any less appropriate a subject as someone in similar circumstances in misty 1930s San Francisco.
In her quest she is assisted by Dirk Bogarde, playing a British artist trying to learn to newly fashionable impressionism:
There is a lovely moment when he talks about impressionism and he is asked: "Do you think they'll ever take it seriously?" When he shows someone a painting and she claims she can't make it what it shows, he tells her: "Perhaps it would look better if you looked at it the right way round? Is that better?"
|Betty Warren and Dirk Bogarde|
She replies: "No, a little worse, I should say!"
The inspiration for the film was a famous urban legend about a man disappearing overnight and his companion being unable to find anyone who could remember him. The legend had already made it's way onscreen in the 1919 film Eerie Tales starring Conrad Veidt.
I won't reveal the ending (anyone who has read this blog knows I think it unfair to include too many spoilers) but it's certainly interesting, if not entirely convincing. But I'll let you be the judge of that.
As an aside, Honor Blackman makes one of her earliest screen appearances as Rhoda O'Donovan, a British woman who is in Paris expecting Dirk Bogarde to make her an offer of marriage.
|Betty Warren, Honor Blackman and Dirk Bogarde|
I found it interesting to notice that there were hardly any clear close-up shots of Ms Blackman. Even though she had an important role, and was certainly a fine looking young lady, it was as if the producer had told the director: "Jean Simmons is our leading lady, she's our star - don't let the competition get a chance to rival her." I'm not saying that's what happened, simply that's how it appears.
Let's see who else shows up: