Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It Happened in Paris (1935)

As I sat down to watch this film, my wife (no fan of old British films) said she was going to have a bath - anything rather than watch "a load of old nonsense" (followed by her bad impression of Moore Marriott). I tried to explain this could be a cut above our normal fare, protesting "But it was directed by Carol Reed!" Her reply said it all: "Who's she?"

You can't win that type of argument!

John Loder & Nancy Burne
But yes, it was directed by Carol Reed, from a screenplay adapted by John Huston. So, even if you don't like this type of film, it does an historic importance: two soon to be notable young film makers working their way up in the industry.

Was there ever any doubt what was going to happen in Paris? It was always going to be romance, but fortunately for the viewer this is romantic comedy at its typically silly, 1930s British, best (well, almost).

When we Brits traditionally thought of Paris it conjured up the image of glamorous women with, we hoped, a far less staid outlook on life and love than their British counterparts. We thought of artists and their models, of the Bohemian life. And sex. You just can't forget the sex.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise to discover this film opens with a view of a some silky underwear hanging on a washing line:

Of course, this being the 1930s, these have to be thrown comically in as a plot device. When fashion model, and would-be designer,  Jacqueline's knickers fall from the washing line she finds herself chasing them through the streets until she finds them in a man's shopping basket where they've been hidden by a monkey (don't ask). When Jacqueline (Nancy Burne) ...
Nancy Burne
... confronts the man, Paul (John Loder) a would-be artist,
John Loder
...we immediately know they are going to fall in love. And, this being a romantic comedy, we also know it won't be long before they have some major fallings out, split up, then are reunited after a series of mishaps that involve Jacqueline designing the wedding dress for Paul's fiancée:
Loder & Burne

That Paul isn't really a struggling artist, but is the son of a billionaire who just wants to build his own life away from his family, is also no surprise. This is the regular stuff of cinema.

When Paul asks Jacqueline to pose for him he delivers a fine portrait ...
John Loder
... although she is less than impressed to find that he has also been watching her through her bedroom window and sketching her as she dresses. Cue obligatory scene of young woman in her underwear:
Nancy Burne

The audience knows everyone will end up happy but what does that matter? This was never going to be high art.

Who else appears?

Bill Shine

Jean Gillie (right) as an artist's life model who spends most of the film wrapped in a bedsheet:

Dorothy Boyd

Edward H. Robins

Esme Percy

Lawrence Grossmith

Although he isn't credited (or listed on the usually reliable IMDB) this appears to be a young John Boxer

Roy Emerton (left)

Finally, here's John Loder wearing a splendid 'Teddy Bear' coat:

Although he also combines a black homburg hat with a casual, soft wool suit:

It's not such a good combination.

The film is currently available in Volume 13 of the Ealing Studios Rarities Collection:

Monday, 19 January 2015

Over the Garden Wall (1934)
Bobby Howes & Marian Marsh
Recently reissued as part of the second volume Network DVD's series 'British Musicals of the 1930s', 'Over the Garden Wall' doesn't have a lot going for it. The story of Bunny (Bobby Howes) and Mary (Marian Marsh), who meet and fall in love whilst visiting their respective aunts who just happen to live next to each other, it has little to recommend. The main problem is that Howes is rather wet and certainly isn't convincing as a leading man in a musical comedy: He neither sings or dances well, is hardly romantic leading man material and doesn't show any talent for comedy. Added to that, the songs are instantly forgettable.
Bobby Howes
Had this been a vehicle for Stanley Lupino it would have been a different matter: Howes is supposed to be convincing as a romantic lead, with Lupino it would have simply been played for laughs, with the audience knowing it's ridiculous but not caring. When your leading man's only discernible talent is making shadow puppets of rabbits ...

... you soon realise this isn't going to be a rollercoaster ride of top quality comic song and dance.
Whilst Howes is the centre of my attack, I should mention that his aunt is played by Margret Bannerman an actress who was actually one year younger than Howes:
Bobby Howes & Margaret Bannerman
This age gap shows that he was simply too old for the role: Here's a man in his late thirties wooing a girl, Marsh, supposed to be seventeen. It's all a bit 'BBC in the 1970s' for my taste:
Bobby Howes & Marian Marsh

I won't be too harsh on Howes though, after all he does wear some nice suits:
Bobby Howes

Bobby Howes

Bobby Howes
The film does however have some historic points of interest, such as Stewart Granger making just his third on-screen appearance as a barman ...
Stewart Granger
 ... an appearance by Elstree railway station (handy for the studios) ...
... and a well choreographed dance sequence imitating the elaborate routines of Busby Berkeley:
Not only that but, this being a 1930s British film, the dancers seem to have forgotten to put on their skirts:
Here's who else to look out for:
Freddie Watts & Bertha Belmore
Freddie Watts & Viola Lyel

Syd Crossley
If I haven't put you off, it's currently available on Volume 2 of 'British Musicals of the 1930s':

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Turn the Key Softly (1953)
"London: The biggest city in the world and it's all yours." 

Joan Collins, Yvonne Mitchell & Kathleen Harrison
As a dedicated viewer of old British films - living in a house with someone who has piles of DVDs waiting to be watched - we operate a list system: three lists meaning that when you have spare time to watch a film you can choose from which ever list has the most suitable film for the time of day and how you are feeling. You aren't going to watch a horror film at 1pm on a lazy Sunday, nor are you going to put on Waterloo at 10pm on a Monday. So when I asked my daughter what we had to choose from she ran through the list already knowing my reply: "You think I'm going to choose And Quiet Flows the Don, or an esoteric German psychological thriller, when I could be watching Joan Collins in a women's prison?"
This is one of those competent little British films  that is most likely to be remembered for the appearance of a young Joan Collins as a prostitute serving a prison sentence for soliciting. But it's much more than that. It's a story about the release of three women from Holloway prison and how they cope with their first day of freedom. It reveals the pressures they face to take the easy option and slip back into their old ways, soon to slip back behind bars. It's their choice to make: to fall into the easy life of crime and jail or make a better life for themselves. As the guard tells them as they are released: "London: The biggest city in the world and it's all yours." 
Each faces their own temptations and has to reach their own conclusions. Stella (Joan Collins) ...
Joan Collins
... has to choose between her former friends on the streets of Piccadilly ...
... or her hardworking fiancée (Glyn Houston) who doesn't care about her past and just wants to settle down with her:
Glyn Houston
We know it's going to be hard for Stella - after all she's the type who wears fishnet gloves ...
... a sure sign that she's 'fast'.
Then there's Mrs Quilliam (Kathleen Harrison)...
Kathleen Harrison
...a lonely old shoplifter whose family have disowned her and whose only friend is her dog Johnny:
Can she avoid the temptation to steal to liven up her dull life?
Yet they are secondary to the real star of the film. Monica (Yvonne Mitchell) ...
Yvonne Mitchell
... is a respectable young woman whose 'stretch' was a result of taking the blame for her boyfriend's crimes. The trouble is, David (Terence Morgan) says he's reformed - that's he's taken a job selling second-hand cars and wants to make amends. He even has her clothes waiting for her in his flat. She's soon back in his bed ...
Terence Morgan & Yvonne Mitchell
... but can she avoid being back in his criminal plans? Since selling second-hand cars in 1950s London is his idea of 'going straight', I think it's clear what his intentions are:
Terence Morgan
Monica is central to the film: Collins is there to give glamour and Harrison to raise sympathy and give a little light relief with her silly ways and her loyal dog, but it's Mitchell who steals the show. Just as in The Divided Heart she conveys her character's feelings, not through words, but with a look into the distance. Whether she's staring into space ...
Yvonne Mitchell
... or enjoying her first cigarette as a free woman ...
Yvonne Mitchell
... the audience understands exactly how she's feeling. Her stillness is enough, she allows her eyes to reveal everything about her.
If Turn the Key Softly was remade now, they'd probably cast Keira Knightley as Monica. It would be a bad choice: Mitchell can stare out of the window and we know that she is dreaming of freedom, of rebuilding her life and trying to avoid her dangerous ex-boyfriend. It's all there in her face. When Keira Knightley stares into the distance she looks like she's forgotten her lines.
In some ways Mitchell makes one think of Celia Johnson: both dark, thin and nervous looking. But there's something less uptight about Mitchell and her roles. Johnson always looked like a woman who couldn't have survived a night on the tiles, let alone a year in prison. Mitchell gives off a sense of inner strength, that she may look weak but can withstand anything life throws at her.
In this, Mitchell is the antithesis of Collins who is all about gesture and movement: she needs to put on her lipstick ...
Joan Collins
...and tell us how glamorous her life is, in order for us to remember she is supposed to be the object of our lust. Collins doesn't seem able to convey this silently. She has to be doing something in order to catch our eye. Compare her to her contemporary Diana Dors, who only had to stand in shot to catch the viewer's eye. Instead, Collins lacks the sense of sensual elegance that is automatically engaging. Or maybe that's just her giving a very accurate depiction of 1950s brassiness?
Here's who else appears:
Clive Morgan as a businessman who can't offer Monica a job but tells her leeringly to call him "if there's any other way I can help."
Thora Hird as Mrs Quilliam's landlady:
Geoffrey Keen as a sympathetic businessman who offers Monica a job:
Dorothy Alison as Monica's flatmate:
Hilda Fenemore as Mrs Quilliam's daughter:
Russell Waters as an outwardly respectable man whose true colours are shown when he is seen secretly reading the Daily Mirror hidden beneath the Daily Telegraph and who soon finds an excuse to chat up Monica, then spends the rest of the film drunk:

Yvonne Mitchell & Russell Waters
It's currently available on DVD: