Cage of Gold (1950)
|Jean Simmons & David Farrar|
|James Donald & David Farrar|
Released in 1950, Cage of Gold is a classic post-war British drama that reflects both the impact of war on individuals and upon society as a whole. As regular readers of this blog will already be aware, your authors are great believers in the argument that British cinema's best commentary on World War 2 comes, not from war films per se, but from dramas such a this. Currently available on Volume 3 of The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection ...
... Cage of Gold shares space with Frieda, another film dealing with the aftermath of war. Both are among Ealing Studios' finest films and well-worth watching. Yet the similarities do not end there: both star David Farrar as a former RAF officer struggling to overcome the personal impact of war.
In Frieda, his character is an introvert, a man who finds himself an outsider within his own world. Yet in Cage of Gold, he is an extrovert, a man whose struggle to settle down post-war - into a world that no longer needs so many dashing, devil-may-care, young pilots - expresses itself in a continued search for risk and excitement which drags him into a world of crime and danger.
The story follows Judith Moray (Jean Simmons) ...
... a young woman who is reunited with her first love, Wing Commander Bill Glennan (David Farrar), who had been a regular visitor to her parent's home when he was stationed nearby during wartime. Despite knowing all too well that Glennan is unreliable, she is drawn back into his world ...
|Jean Simmons & David Farrar|
|Jean Simmons and David Farrar|
... falls pregnant and marries him, only to see him run away as soon as he discovers her family have no money to lend him.
By falling back in love with Glennan, Judith betrays her boyfriend Alan Kearn (James Donald) a steady, reliable, young doctor just starting out on his career.
We know that he is steady - and possibly a little dull - since, in contrast to Bill Glennan, Dr Kearns wears a cardigan with his suit ...
... rather than dressing for dinner, or constantly smoking and drinking, like his love rival:
This situation might easily have left us with a standard love-triangle between the beautiful young woman, the exciting war hero and the dull doctor. However, in the hands of producers Michael Balcon and Michael Relph, and directed by Relph's regular partner Basil Dearden, the film takes on a crusading role.
Dr Kearns and Wing Commander Glennan are not simply the love interests for the leading lady, instead they represent essential facets of post-war Britain, struggling - not for the heart of the lady - but for the support of society itself:
|James Donald and David Farrar|
Dr Kearns is a man facing a choice between working in an exclusive private clinic or in general practice in the newly formed National Health Service. In choosing the NHS he aligns himself with modernity, with the future of the not only the nation's health, but with its overall wellbeing. He sacrifices greater financial reward for the sense of community he can find treating the ordinary people of South London. That he not only represents political advancement, but also represents changing social attitudes, is shown by his acceptance of bringing up another man's child as his own.
At the heart of the film is this clash of cultures: stability versus excitement, building for the future versus living for the moment. Whilst Dr Kearns represents the bright new future, Glennan represents the past: he is stuck in a hopeless cycle of indulgence and a quest for the excitement of the old-days, when just surviving to fight another day was a bonus. His world of nightclubs, airshows, horse racing and nights out at the theatre is glamorous but ultimately unsustainable. Like war, it eventually devours all who choose that life.
Glennan is living in the past, unable to let go of the heady days of bombing missions and endless parties. When Judith paints his portrait he insists on being depicted in his uniform, as if that was the only part of his life that really mattered:
|James Donald & Jean Simmons|
And just like his wartime life, his post-war world is destructive: rather than bombing cities, he plays with women and exploits them, doing anything he can to fund the life he feels he needs to live:
|Farrar & Maria Mauban|
Although the film's publicity depicted Simmons within a cage, the title actually refers to another of Glennan's loves, Marie Jouvet, a French nightclub singer who is obsessed with him and who will do anything not to lose him:
|Madeleine Lebeau in the gilded cage of the title|
The film also offers us the unlikely sight of Herbert Lom as a sympathetic villain. Yes he's a criminal, as is shown by his choice of super-wide lapels, bold striped shirts and bow ties ...
... but he is also a victim in that he is rejected by Jouvet since she cannot abandon her love for Glennan.
As a stand-alone film, Cage of Gold competes with the very best of the output of Ealing Studios during this period, but as a companion piece to Frieda it provides an essential platform for building an understanding of post-war Britain.
Here's who else appears: