Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cheer Boys Cheer (1939)

The credits are printed onto crates of beer
You won’t believe how long I waited to see this film. I first read about Cheer Boys Cheer in Charles Barr’s seminal book ‘Ealing Studios’ ...

... back in the early 1980s. This, Barr informed his readers, was the prototype ‘Ealing Comedy’, the story of a small-scale country brewery (Greenleaf)...

... fighting back against a large industrialised brewery (Ironside) ...

...whose owners want to take over their rival. This theme of a community taking on the impersonalised modern world is effectively how the entire history of Ealing Studios is seen by so many people (it’s a rather unfair misunderstanding of Ealing’s output, but this isn’t the place for that argument – but you can read a fascinating appraisal of this misinterpretation in the BFI’s book Ealing Revisited ).

 It was not until the British Film Institute presented its 2012 Season ‘Ealing: Light and Dark’ that I finally got the opportunity to see this film. In fact, just after the season was announced, but before the programme was finalised, I cornered a member of BFI staff at another event, requesting that she tell those people organising the season that Cheer Boys Cheer was essential viewing. Whether my intervention had any effect, I don’t know. All that mattered was that I was able to book my tickets and get to see this long-forgotten slice of 1930s cinema. That it starred Will Hay’s sidekicks, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott, was a just a very welcome bonus.

However, whilst the film is a genuinely funny comedy that offers the burgeoning relationship between Margaret Greenleaf (played by Nova Pilbeam), the daughter of the Greenleaf owner ...
Nova Pilbeam & Peter Coke

... and John Ironside (played by Peter Coke), the son of the Ironside chairman, as a dramatic mechanism to present an allegory surrounding the struggle between the two companies. Ironside has increased production to such a level that its output exceeds demand. Expansion at all cost, using violence to take control of new markets, was familiar to a very concerned public in the summer of 1939.

Appearing on cinema screens in a country that was still reeling from the 1938 Munich crisis and the ever-increasing threat of German expansionism, Cheer Boys Cheer effectively offers ‘Ironside’ as Nazi Germany: modern, efficient, dynamic and ruthlessly expansionist, but soulless. By contrast, ‘Greenleaf’ is Czechoslovakia: old fashioned, sleepy, happy within itself, but ready for the taking. I suppose I could also add that, just like ‘Greenleaf’, the Czechs are historically the producers of some of the best beer in the world. Although describing Czechoslovakia of the 1930s as sleepy and backwards is actually be unfair (as it was an effective industrial power, home to companies such as Skoda and Tatra), the analogy would have been recognisable to audiences of the day.

‘Ironside’ is shown as a stark concrete factory, everything is automated and the scale of the enterprise dwarfs all humanity … 

 … unlike ‘Greenleaf’ where dray horses clip-clop through the gates and the buildings are made from brick and wood:
Where ‘Ironside’ employs white-coated scientists …

 ... ‘Greenleaf’ is the home to gap-toothed old men and overweight boys:
Graham Moffatt & Moore Marriott

However, with all its emphasis on efficiency and modernisation, ‘Ironside’s beer is horrible. As one of the company directors tells Mr Ironside, his beer's not worth drinking "You've rationalised all the taste out of it.":

… unlike ‘Greenleaf’s which retains the tradition of taste over technology:

‘Ironside’ even employs a gang of heavies to smash up ‘Greenleaf’ pubs in the hope of forcing them to agree to a buyout:

 And, just in case you haven’t got the message Tom Greenleaf (C.V. France) the owner of ‘Greenleaf’ collects Toby Jugs …
C.V. France
… whilst Edward Ironside (Edmund Gwenn) reads Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’:
Edmund Gwenn
And if that isn't enough, he appears to have a bust of another continental dictator with an expansionist ideology, Napoleon Bonaparte, in his boardroom:

 Also appearing:

Jimmy O’Dea

 Ivor Barnard:
Director Walter Forde appears in his own film as the wedding pianist:

 … and this bloke (left) who plays one of the ‘Ironside’ heavies …
… and also appeared as an extra (right) in ‘There Ain’t No Justice’:

 Available on Volume 9 of Network DVD's Ealing Rarities Collection:




1 comment:

  1. i've got to see that,thanks for pics and info