Thursday, 17 July 2014

There Ain’t No Justice (1939)
Richard Norris, Jimmy Hanley & Mike Johnson

This film is a fascinating collaboration between two men, whose careers have been much overlooked in later years and whose careers were ended by war. In the case of the writer/director Pen Tennyson his promising career was brought to an untimely end by a plane crash in 1941 whilst serving in the Royal Navy. An Old Etonian, Tennyson was the great grandson of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Having worked for Alfred Hitchcock during the 1930s, he directed just three films before his death: There Ain’t No Justice, The Proud Valley and Convoy (both 1940). All three were highly acclaimed and Tennyson was a favourite of Ealing Studio’s head Michael Balcon, who considered him to have a bright future.

His co-writer James Curtis (upon whose 1937 novel the film was based) joined the army, served overseas, reached the rank of major, but returned home to a world which had changed. With both author and market changed by war, he never again achieved the heights he had reached with ‘There Ain’t No Justice’ (1937) and ‘They Drive By Night (1938). Having written five novels between 1936 and 1939 he only produced one more book between war’s end and his death in 1977. In the years that followed demobilisation from the army, his fame faded and he scraped a living, hardly acknowledging that he was once the rising star of British literature who had seen his two novels adapted for the screen within a year of publication.

The film tells the story of Tommy Mutch (James Hanley) ...
Jimmy Hanley
... who, encouraged by his success in a street brawl with an established boxer Frank Fox (Michael Hogarth) ...
Michael Hogarth
... decides to give up his job as a mechanic and turn professional under the watchful eye of trainer Harry Dunn (Mike Johnson – complete with authentic cauliflower ear):
Mike Johnson
He soon learns that the world of professional boxing is a crooked game when his promoter Sammy Sanders (Edward Chapman) ...
Edward Chapman

Edward Chapman
... gets his girlfriend Dot Ducrow (Nan Hopkins) to seduce Tommy into throwing a fight. Both are unsavoury characters with Sammy dressed in flash suits, smoking fat cigars, wearing a comical moustache and – more importantly – caring little for his boxers apart from when they are making money for him. Dot is a highly sexual character whose relationship with Sammy doesn’t stop her from openly admitting that she is looking forward to seducing Tommy:
Nan Hopkins
The first two thirds of the film are gritty and recreate the book’s feel, with boxing being a way out of poverty for ambitious young fighters. The injuries suffered by some boxers are depicted in a harrowing manner, allowing the audience to understand that this is not a pro-pugilism picture. The film even opens with a statement recognising that boxers are exploited by managers and promoters:
The problem with the film is that Tennyson and Curtis knew that many of the book’s harder themes and scenes would never get past the censor. As a result, the film changes tone towards the end and the closing scenes (and happy ending) are a far cry from the ending of the original book. It leaves the viewer feeling that, had they been able to remain true to the novel, this might have been one of the all-time greats of British cinema. Without the hard ending it remains an entertaining film but one which – pardon the pun – doesn’t deliver its final punch.

Despite this, the film is well-worth watching and is available from Network DVD as part of their Ealing Rarities series:

 To get a feel of what might have been, I would recommend getting a copy of the book which has been recently republished by the wonderful publishing house London Books:


And look out for the cardboard cut-out spectators watching the final fight scenes:


Here’s who else appears:

Michael Wilding in only his third credited screen role, with Phyllis Stanley

Jill Furse, who had previously appeared in ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ but never made another film after ‘There Ain’t No Justice’, and died in childbirth in 1944.
Al Millen

Edward Rigby & Mary Clare

Gus MacNaughton

John Boxer

Richard Ainley

Richard Norris



Friday, 11 July 2014

Dandy Dick (1935)
Will Hay
This is one of those early Will Hay films that has been little seen since its release in 1935. Unlike his classic films, this never seemed to turn up on BBC2 on a Saturday. In many ways, the film is primarily interesting for confirmed Hay fans since it helps show the development of the on-screen character that later made him so popular.
Hay plays a vicar: an honest man whose morals seem to be genuine. This is a far cry from his more regular characters where the outward appearance of respectability is little more than a veneer that covers his vices and his all round uselessness. However in 'Dandy Dick' he is tempted into straying from the path of righteousness towards gambling on horse racing not out of greed or a love of gambling, but in order to raise funds for repairs to his church steeple. He isn't his normal bumbling self: it's as if the character hadn't been fully developed yet.
This is probably going to be one of the shortest entries on this blog since I really don't have a lot to say about it.
Here's who else appears:
Kathleen Harrison (right)

Esmond Knight

Mignon O'Doherty

Syd Crossley

Nancy Burne

Future Hay sidekick, Moore Marriott (left)

Legendary horse racing tipster, Prince Monolulu (left) with Will Hay

Also of note is Hay's appearance wearing a flying helmet in a scene where he is a less than willing passenger. The irony is that Hay was actually an accomplished pilot who is credited as having given flying lessons to the legendary female aviator, Amy Johnson.
Will Hay

It's currently available to buy from Network DVD:

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Girl in the Taxi (1937)

Frances Day
Here's another of those short, sharp films that were so prevalent in the UK in the 1930s: The Girl in the Taxi is a genuinely funny farce about a pompous Baron (played by Lawrence Grossmith, the son of George Grossmith, author of Diary of a Nobody) ...

Lawrence Grossmith
... who believes that Rene (Henri Garat) ...

Henri Garat
... is a drunken playboy, undeserving of marrying his daughter (Jean Gillie):

Jean Gillie

As the head of a Parisian society promoting virtue, the Baron is a great believer in hereditary virtue who makes the argument "like father, like son."

Of course, once we meet his son (MacKenzie Ward) ...
MacKenzie Ward
... we know that this is either a falsehood or the Baron is hiding something. He's the archetypal cinematic idiot son of the aristocracy, who is hopelessly in love with a married woman, Suzanne (Frances Day):

Frances Day and MacKenzie Ward: "Feel how my heart beats." 
The trouble is that the Baron is also in love with her and, when she accidentally receives a letter announcing her to be the unlikely winner of a prize for virtue (it having been mistakenly swapped for one of the idiot son's love letters), chaos ensues.

We soon discover that the Baron actually has a taste for nightclubs and what he calls "fun, frolics and fair ladies", leading us into the inevitable nightclub scene complete with an obligatory underwear flashing Can-Can dance:

Upon arrival at the club the waiting ladies are rather excited to hear that the Baron is there with one describing him as "the original sugar daddy."

"Good" her friend replies "I've got a sweet tooth."
The Baron (Lawrence Grossmith) and his admirers
Naturally, the farce runs wild and everything is resolved in the end, but not before a visit to the police station where we discover the truth of the Baron's words:
"Like father, Like son."
(MacKenzie Ward and Lawrence Grossmith)

Let's have a look at the rest of the cast:
Helen Haye

John Deverell
It's currently available on Volume 6 of Network DVD's The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection: