Sunday, 6 April 2014

Bank Holiday (1938)

 When we think of the traditional British Bank Holiday what comes to mind?

The rush to escape from work ... 
... the crowds at the railway stations ...
... the even bigger crowds at the seaside ...
... the drunks spilling out of pubs ...
... the inevitable fights ... 
... and, of course, the rain!

That's right: All the ingredients are here in this odd little film about an unmarried couple planning what used to be known as a 'dirty weekend' at the seaside.

The couple in question are a nurse, Catherine Lawrence (Margaret Lockwood) ...
Margaret Lockwood
... and her boyfriend Geoff (Hugh Williams):
Hugh Williams
Hugh Williams and Margaret Lockwood

The morals of their planned weekend away together (signing into the hotel as Mr and Mrs Smith) are a sign of the times. As Cathy tells a surgeon at the hospital:

"You never know what might happen in the world nowadays. You've got to try and be happy while you can."

Her words reflect a world that was just one year away from war.

However, her world is turned upside down before she leaves for the weekend when a woman dies in childbirth, leaving a grieving husband (John Lodge) to cope all alone over the holiday.

Margaret Lockwood

John Lodge

The film also offers us an opportunity to see Margaret Lockwood in a bathing suit ...
Margaret Lockwood
... and Hugh Williams displaying what appears to be a tattoo on his forearm:
Hugh Williams and Margaret Lockwood
Most of the story revolves around whether Cathy will remain with Geoff at the seaside, and surrender her respectability (or should I say 'virginity', since it's not 1938 anymore?) to Geoff, or will she return to London to be with a man she hardly knows?

Whilst Cathy and Geoff play out this serious story line, the film offers the light relief of Doreen (Rene Ray) and Milly (Merle Tottenham) who have travelled to the seaside where Doreen is set to compete as 'Miss Fulham' in a beauty contest.

Rene Ray and Merle Tottenham
The irony is that 'Miss Fulham' is a working class girl with little experience of the high-life. She orders Benedictine liquor in a hotel bar, expecting a cocktail. After trying a small glass she orders a tumbler full. Anyone whose ever tasted Benedictine knows that the small glass would have been sufficient. Her character shows how much the world has changed: back in 1938 Fulham was a very different area to now. Nowadays, if we think of 'Fulham' we'd expect someone out of 'Made in Chelsea' or a girl suited to be on Hugh Grant's arm, not a sharp-voiced shop girl.

By contrast, Dorothy's rival is 'Miss Mayfair':
Jeanne Stewart
Whilst appearing as the epitome of thirties glamour, audiences familiar with the pages of the News of the World would have immediately understood that Mayfair was an area famed for its prostitution.

If that isn't enough to convince the audience of her nature, we her with a succession of men, each older - and more prosperous - than the last. When she walks over a grating on the pier, Dorothy and Milly look up and are shocked by what they see:

Rene Ray and Merle Tottenham

"She ought to be ashamed of herself!"

The inference is clear, Miss Mayfair isn't wearing any underwear!

During the contest 'Miss Mayfair' steals the limelight from her more low key competitors:

Jeanne Stewart
The judge is certainly impressed ...

... so impressed that he takes her home with him!

This film is one of the curious little gems of British cinema: largely forgotten but fun in the comic sequences and Carol Reed directs the scenes featuring the bereaved husband with a genuine flair in what was his sixth of more than thirty films. The problem lies with the balance between the comic sequences and the more serious scenes. Furthermore, despite the familiarity of the Bank Holiday scenes, the treatment of the bereaved father seems rather dated: his child has survived the death of the mother. Yet, when he announces that he will never see the child, no one bats an eyelid. They simply carry on as if such lack of emotion for a child is normal. And maybe audiences failed to feel sympathy for Cathy in her treatment of Geoff. She leaves her fiancée (a man who is clearly passionate) for a man she hardly knows. Indeed, he seems a rather cold fellow who is grieving for a wife he never even shared a bed with:

As a counter argument, you could say that Cathy is right to leave Geoff to be with a respectable man who, unlike Geoff, doesn't seem to think the world revolves around getting Cathy into bed.

Hugh Williams
The casting of Hugh Williams as Geoff, a man intent on bedding his fiancée, is an inspired one and a role to which he was obviously well suited. It appears he had rather a reputation as a ladies man, with a number of marriages and a long string of lovers, including the legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead. For more on his love life it's worth reading Matthew Sweet's wonderful history of British cinema, Shepperton Babylon.

So who else do we see in Bank Holiday?
Ernest Sefton

Kathleen Harrison

Linden Travers

Michael Rennie (left) in an early uncredited role

Wally Patch

Wilfred Lawson & Garry Marsh

It's currently available on DVD as part of a box set, also featuring: The Wicked Lady, The Lady Vanishes and Love Story. Not bad value for £13!

1 comment:

  1. Good film; I last watched it some years ago but liked it. Interesting comments about the London areas! (See London Town for similar social change in 'The Ampstead Way')