Monday, 25 May 2015

Meet Mr Lucifer (1953)
 
Stanley Holloway as  the Devil and ...

... as an actor playing the Devil!
Meet Mr Lucifer must be one the strangest films ever to come out of Ealing Studios and, not only that, it is also one of the most underrated. It has somehow earned a dreadful reputation and yet it is both funny and fun. No one is going to label it as one of the great Ealing Comedies, but it is far superior to some of the fare produced by the studio in the 1950s. Currently available on Volume 9 of Network DVD's The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, it is worth watching just so that you can make up your own mind about its worth.
 
It tells the story of a failing pantomime star, played by Stanley Holloway, whose performances are playing to empty theatres:
 
 
The source of this downturn in audience numbers? Television.
 
After an accident knocks him unconscious, he dreams of meeting the Devil who sends him out to ruin people's lives as a reward for their addiction to watching television. The message certainly isn't subtle, but even more than sixty years on the film's observations on the impact of TV haven't dated.
 
Stanley Holloway's character (who doesn't actually seem particularly interested in doing anything to save theatre) ...
 
... is disparaging about television, describing it as an example of mass hallucination - although it might have been more accurate for him to describe it as mass hypnotism. Among those hypnotised by the arrival of television include a young married couple (played by Peggy Cummins and Jack Watling) whose relationship is spoiled by the amount of time spent staring at the screen:
Peggy Cummins & Jack Watling

Jack Watling

Peggy Cummins
Then there's the staid chemist, played by Gordon Jackson ...
Gordon Jackson
... whose life is turned upside down ...
 
... when he falls in love with TV's 'Lonely Hearts' singer, played by Kay Kendall:
 

Her act is an example of the blatant manipulation of vulnerable and lonely male members of the audience who truly believe she is singing directly to them, rather than just being part of an act. Unlike theatre or cinema, where the audience member knows the message is going out to everybody, the television message targets the solitary viewer. It's a precursor for all those online adverts that convince lonely western men that they could find love with gorgeous Russian 'models'. The film's moral stance is also a direct attack on commercialism and the blatant use of a layer of false emotion to present goods to an audience.
 
And what does the early TV show? There are no surprises for the modern audience. When Joseph Tomelty takes possession of a television, the first thing he sees is football ...
 
... closely followed by dancing ...
 
... cookery shows ...
 
... and science programmes with the power to enthral the audience without any of them understanding a word of it:

So what's changed? Nothing. We still sit around these boxes that bring the world into our living rooms and yet all too often offer us little but a view on the mundane.
 
The film's cast is immense, including:
 
Barbara Murray

Dandy Nicholls & Ernest Thesiger

Edie Martin


Gladys Henson (centre)
 
Raymond Huntley (centre) and Roddy Hughes (right)

Irene Handl

Jean Cadell

John Boxer

Joan Sims

Olive Sloane

Ian Carmichael as 'Man Friday' in the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe'.
 
1950s TV personality Gilbert Harding appears as himself, with Joseph Tomelty watching his performance. Harding and Tomelty had previous played opposite each other in Ealing's The Gentle Gunman.
Trivia: when Holloway appears as the Devil (rather than the stage devil), his voice is dubbed by actor Geoffrey Keen.

This poster is currently available from the highly recommended website Rare Film Posters:
 
 
One final point: It's worth noting that Stanley Holloway appears in an outfit that appears almost identical to that he wore a few years later in The Titfield Thunderbolt: tweed jacket and soft tweed hat, bow tie and smoking through a cigarette holder:
Stanley Holloway
The Titfield Thunderbolt
 
The Titfield Thunderbolt

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