Thursday, 30 October 2014

Freida (1947)
David Farrar & Mai Zetterling
If British cinema struggled, usually as a result of relatively low budgets, to produce exciting war films capable of challenging  Hollywood's standard fare - ageing actor charges up a Californian hill and defeats American army tanks painted in German colours, before making a speech about freedom - it was certainly able to compete in terms of films that looked at the aftermath of war.

British film makers had no problems with introspective views of how war had changed both individuals and the society they lived in. Even before the war was over Millions Like Us had challenged viewers to look at the breaking down of class barriers, urging them to think that this was the way ahead for a society that should never return to the hardships and inequality of the pre-war years. It was a theme taken up in Cage of Gold, whilst Ealing Studio's Dance Hall examined the challenges to society of women that had grown used to the freedom of working alongside men. War's personal impact on the lives of European families was also given sensitive treatment in The Divided Heart.

The effects of war on youth and the rise of juvenile delinquency was raised in films such as The Blue Lamp whilst the sense of displacement felt by former officers became a theme for crime dramas, such as They Made Me a Fugitive starring Trevor Howard as a former RAF pilot reduced to joining a criminal gang. Even the period's greatest romantic fantasy film, A Matter of Life and Death, sums up the changing attitudes of the time when David Niven's character Squadron Leader Peter Carter describes himself as "Conservative by nature, Labour by experience."

And, among those films, the 1947 Freida stands out as a challenging look at post-war British society and, in particular, how it should come to terms with its former enemies. It follows the story of an RAF officer Robert Dawson (David Farrar) who, having escaped from a prisoner of war camp with the help of a German nurse Frieda (Mai Zetterling), marries her as battle rages around them ...

Mai Zetterling, Gerald Heinz and David Farrar
... then brings her home even before war has ended. He is immediately faced by challenges in trying to smooth her transition into living in British society. Not least is his own reticence to open up emotionally. Farrar plays the role with such careful reserve that the audience is left wondering whether he loves her or has simply married her out of gratitude. Yet one should not simply see this as typically  aloofness and emotional restraint so often portrayed in cinema as the natural setting for the middles classes. Instead, one has to remember he is a man returning home to a world he has been cut off from for so long.

Robert returns to a childhood home, so peaceful and typically English that it must feel daunting after the confines of a PoW camp:

He is faced by a loving mother who cannot hide the discomfort in knowing her son has brought an 'enemy' to their home ...
Barbara Everest
... a situation made more difficult by the fact that war had claimed the life of another of her sons, leaving behind a widow ...
Glynis Johns & Patrick Holt
... who is herself in love with Robert ...
Glynis Johns & David Farrar
He is a schoolmaster who feels restrained by returning to the classroom and only begins to settle once he starts working outdoors:
David Farrar

David Farrar
He also has an aunt (Flora Robson) with political ambitions and faces hostility from voters due to having an 'enemy' living under the same roof. The challenge she presents to Robert and Frieda is magnified by her own personal antipathy towards the Germans.
Flora Robson
The hurdles faced by the couple are further complicated by the arrival of Frieda's brother Richard (Albert Lieven):
Albert Lieven
Perhaps the most powerful scene in the film is when Frieda and Robert go to cinema. As they about to leave a newsreel comes on screen, graphically revealing the horrors of the liberation of Belsen concentration camp. The audience is jolted back to reality as the newsreel plays on screen, something that, when the film was first released in 1947, would have been taken them back to their first memories of seeing the horrors of the holocaust. This lengthy showing of scenes from within the camp challenges the audience to rethink the sympathy they might have for Frieda and to remind them of the challenges faced by both themselves and the onscreen characters. But we also see the look of horror on Frieda's face as she forces herself to see the truth about her homeland:
Mai Zetterling

The director's bold choice to show real concentration camp scenes, in the midst of what is on surface a romantic drama, was a bold choice and one that works.

For many modern viewers the challenge of accepting Germans into British society after World War 2 might be viewed in light of the rather modern sporting rivalries that exist between the two countries. Yet this is, however it might appear, something relatively new, having only emerged in the final years of the 20th Century. Prior to that, for all the playing of British vs Germans wargames on playgrounds, in back gardens and playing fields, many Germans had easily fitted in to British society with most animosity fading as the years went by (your author can attest to this, having been brought up in a street that was home to three former members of the German Army).

A thought provoking film that remains relevant to this day when we look at how best to treat individuals from countries and societies we might consider enemies.

Here's who else appears:

Ronald Howard

Barry Jones

Garry Marsh

Ray Jackson

Stanley Escane and Gladys Henson

Currently available on DVD as part of Volume 3 of Network DVD's Ealing Rarities Collection. That it appears in the same set as Cage of Gold makes this something that should be owned by all fans of British cinema:

The following original advertising brochures are available from Greg Edwards's website 'Rare Film Posters':

Buy it, watch it, enjoy it ... think about it!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Let's Be Famous (1939
Betty Driver, Jimmy O'Dea, Sonnie Hale and Basil Radford
Looking back nearly eighty years, it's hard to imagine that anyone imagined that Jimmy O'Dea was screen star material. He may have been a successful comedian in the Irish music halls, but he certainly didn't have what it takes to wow British cinema audiences.

Jimmy O'Dea
And in this role as Jimmy Houlihan, a small town shopkeeper with big ambitions, but a singing voice that wouldn't even get him onto the X Factor as someone to laugh at, O'Dea is rather irritating. He doesn't have a natural feeling on screen as shown by Sonnie Hale, who plays a hapless showbiz agent trying to sign up stars for advertising campaigns.
Patrick Barr & Sonnie Hale
Unfortunately for Hale, his target Betty Pinbright (long time Coronation Street regular, Betty Driver) ...
Betty Driver
... is snapped up by a rival agent (Patrick Barr) who soon gets Betty into the bath advertising soap:
Betty Driver
As an excuse to a few lightweight, sing-a-long numbers, Let's Be Famous is inoffensive enough and in its depiction of the deluded O'Dea as an untalented man chasing his dreams of singing stardom it might have a certain resonance for viewers brought up on a diet of similarly untalented people trying to convince Simon Cowell they are the next big thing. But personally, the film has little value except as a an indication that despite his reputation, Michael Balcon produced some dross during his career at Ealing Studios: Let's Be Famous is more swine than pearl.
Also appearing are:
Basil Radford

Garry Marsh

Lena Brown

Milton Rosmer
Most entertaining point in the film: Whilst arguing in a hotel corridor Hale and O'Dea are confronted by an irate guest who tells them he has come to the hotel "to get some sleep" and appears to be the epitome of respectability ...

... however, his companion soon arrives - complete with lacy underwear, stockings and negligee - making me think he wasn't thinking about sleep.

And when that's the funniest moment of a comedy, you know something is wrong!

Also look out for, Jimmy O'Dea wearing the same suit that he also wore in Penny Paradise:

Let's Be Famous

Penny Paradise

Currently available on Volume 10 of the Ealing Rarities Collection. I wouldn't recommend Let's Be Famous but the collection does include Saloon Bar (a very good example of a 1930s British comedy) and The Divided Heart (a wonderfully understated film dealing with the aftermath of war).

Familiar Faces No 4:
Russell Waters
A regular in films through the 1950s, Waters isn't just a familiar face, he also seems to wear a familiar suit.
Here he is wearing the same double breasted, striped suit in three films:
Seven Days to Noon
Man in the Sky
Lease of Life (1954)

Lease of Life (1954)

Robert Donat
Lease of Life is an example of one of those films which saw Ealing Studios losing its direction during the mid-1950s. The story of troubled vicar (played by Robert Donat) who knows he is dying, yet wishes to conceal the truth from his family, its one saving grace is the way it conjures up the image of the dour, post-war, post-rationing 1950s that was (according to most interpretations of twentieth century British history) washed away by the arrival of Rock 'n Roll. That may be a glib assessment of the period, but the film could be used as the perfect example to support it. The tones are warm but unexciting, the street scenes lack any life and the weather is constantly dull. That the story follows a vicar as he approaches death was never going to drag audiences out of their equally dull homes to pay to watch it. I doubt if many people would bother to watch if it was on television. The fact that I don't recall it showing on TV as I was growing up probably says a lot about it.

This sense of the dull is perfectly shown by Denholm Elliott's outfit: it's a nice tweed suit but the light brown jumper and plain brown tie are just boring.
Denholm Elliott
That it came from the pen of thriller writer Eric Ambler and was direction by Charles Frend, who was at the helm for The Cruel Sea just one year earlier, comes as a surprise. One might have expected a little bit more excitement than the story of the harsh life of a country parson, with no money, no career prospects, no future on earth and possible doubts about the afterlife.
Here's who appears:
 Adrienne Corri:

Denholm Elliott:

Kay Walsh:

Vida Hope:

Walter Fitzgerald:

Richard Wattis:

Lockwood West:

Edie Martin & Jean Anderson:

Frank Atkinson & Reginald Beckwith:

Fred Piper:

Alan Webb:

Beckett Bould:

Russell Waters:
Richard Leech:

One interesting historical detail: the newspaper reminds us of the period that Wolverhampton Wanderers were a genuine force in English football:
Also look out for Robert Donat referring to the fact that he has been reading John Buchan's The 39 Steps which, of course, was the film role Donat was best remembered for.
Currently available as part of Volume 11 of the Ealing Rarities Collection: