Friday, 27 February 2015

It's Great to be Young! (1956)
Here's an odd little film, one that is - quite understandably - somewhat forgotten. From the pen of The Blue Lamp and Dixon of Dock Green creator Ted Willis (later Lord Willis, an interesting career progression for an ex-communist), it's the story of a music teacher Mr Dingle (John Mills) ...
John Mills
...who is the school's outsider/rebel figure, who teaches jazz to the school orchestra and challenges the authority of the Headmaster, played by Cecil Parker.
Cecil Parker
That's right John Mills is the focus of the rebellious spirit of the pupils. In the year that rock and rock went mainstream, British cinema offers us the 48 year old Mills as the figurehead of musical aspirations of the jazz-loving six formers at a rather grand looking rural grammar school. Blackboard Jungle it ain't!
Yes, the film's youthful cast (or not so youthful in some cases: Dorothy Bromiley was playing a schoolgirl despite being 26 years old and married to Joseph Losey) gets to share the singing, dancing and musical mayhem ...
Dorothy Bromiley and Jeremy Spenser

Brian Smith, Carole Shelley, Dorothy Bromiley and Jeremy Spenser

... however, it's Mills who remains the musical focus:

Part of the problem is that the film doesn't quite know what it wants to be: is it a weak attempt to reflect youth culture? If so, it's jazz theme was out of sync with the coming of rock and roll. This wouldn't have had the Teddy Boys dancing in the aisles and slashing seats (they'd probably have been too busy sleeping). Or is it an attempt to be a cheerily charming childhood comic caper, a sort of musical Hue and Cry? Even in that it fails. With protracted classical musical performances fighting for space with the jazz numbers, the film seems to uncertain of its audience. And as a comedy it's not particularly funny.
And of course, it has a happy ending:
John Mills

Cecil Parker
Look out for a young Richard O'Sullivan as a French horn player keen to join the orchestra:
Richard O'Sullivan

Richard O'Sullivan
And you might also like to see Russell Waters wearing the same blue, multi-stripe, double breasted suit that he also wore in Seven Days to Noon, The Man in the Sky and Lease of Life:
The exteriors were shot at  The Royal Masonic School, Bushey, Hertfordshire. No longer a school, it spent some time derelict before being recently redeveloped as luxury housing. There are some interesting photos of the site before redevelopment on the Derelict Places website:
The school, being based close to Elstree Studios, was a popular location appearing in such films as Lucky Jim, Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeMonty Python's Meaning of Life, The Wall and even played a court in Eastenders.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Fantasy Film Making:
Casino Royale - 1956
In an earlier post I imagined Casino Royale filmed by Ealing as a dark interpretation of the novel, throwing away all the clichés of the sixties Bonds and staying with the novel's bleakly violent world.
However, what if someone else had taken on the novel in the mid 1950s? In that era of comfortable - slightly saucy - comedy, maybe film rights could have fallen into the hands of the Boulting Brothers, Launder and Gilliat or even Mario Zampi. I'm thinking the world of School for Scoundrels, Private's Progress, St Trinian's and Too Many Crooks. Imagine Bond dropped into that world - a sort of Carry on Spying for the previous decade.
Who would they have cast for their comical spy caper?
Let's have a look at the prime candidates:
Let's start at the top - James Bond himself. This Bond would a failure, a man trying to live up to the darkly handsome, suave, sophisticated image he is supposed to have. Except he got the job by accident - a mix up in the office that sent him to 'Universal Exports' and consigned an efficient secret-agent and trained killer to a desk job in the Ministry of Transport. Because that's what bureaucrats do in the world of 1950s British comedy.
In my opinion there can be only one candidate for the role. Who else can be our inept hero, a fish-out-of-water, who comes up against a dangerous world and stumbles his way to victory? Step forward the one and only Ian Carmichael:
He played that role in virtually every film he made during that period: School for Scoundrels, Lucky Jim, Private's Progress, I'm Alright Jack and the much underrated Brothers in Law (my favourite of the lot). He must be our Bond - a man whose equally ill at ease on the golf course ...
... as a soldier ...

... or, in fact, anywhere at all:
Of course every Bond needs his Moneypenny. Here the almost glamorous, carefully efficient secretary who is in love with Bond but keeps her cool, is replaced by a gawky, slightly silly lady, who is anything but efficient, and who can't help but fumble and stutter every time he comes near. British cinema of the period offers us one actress who stumbles, dithers and generally makes a mess of everything: Joyce Grenfell. 

The icily calm head of the organisation is of course 'M', the retired Admiral who happily sends men out around the world with a 'licence to kill'. Bernard Lee, of course, made this role his own - no time for two words when one would do. But that's not the type of man we are looking for. We need a hapless bureaucrat: a man trying to rule his team of agents with a rod of iron, but who just can't control them.
For this role I would cast Eric Barker. After all, this was the man who played the Police Inspector in Carry on Constable, the company commander in Carry on Sergeant and held a senior post at the Ministry of Education in Blue Murder at St Trinian's. And of course, he played 'The Chief' in Carry on Spying: Eric the role is quite definitely yours:
The role of the book's villain Le Chiffre is more difficult to fill. My first thought was Alastair Sim ...
 ... who had just the right amount of comic creepiness for the part, something he displayed in a range of films including The Green Man (in which he played an assassin) and even Hue & Cry where he played a rather scary writer of comic strips. And who can forget his role as the arch-manipulator, Mr Potter, in School for Scoundrels:

It would also have given an excuse to cast his protégé George Cole as one of his henchmen:

However, Sim was too old for the role. Instead, I'd suggest one of the period's most convincing portrayers of the dangerously psychotic, Dennis Price:

There's just enough suave menace about his characters, both  when he's playing it straight - such as in Murder Without Crime ...

... or when he's starring in a comedy, such as The Naked Truth:
Of course, what is Bond without some glamour? The question of who should play Bond's love interest, Vesper Lynd, is rather difficult. The comedies that were produced in the UK during this period didn't have any obvious comedy leading ladies, instead producers chose from a stream of glamorous actresses who could support the leading man. Looks - and of course the ability to look good in their underwear - was an essential part of the casting process. No different to casting any Bond girls, I suppose!

So our candidates would include Shirley Eaton (seen here in The Naked Truth)...

and Janette Scott (seen here in School for Scoundrels) ...

However, I would give the role to Jill Adams who appeared in The Green Man ...

... Private's Progress ...
... and Brothers in Law:

Plus, they'd have to be bit parts for other period regulars: maybe Guy Middleton as one of Bond's fellow agents ...

... and Terry-Thomas making a brief appearance as a fellow gambler at the Casino card tables ...
 All I can say is that it would have been better than the 1960s comedy version of Casino Royale!


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Gentle Gunman (1952)
"Damned Irish, won't let us get on with our war in peace."
From the production and direction team of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, it's no wonder this film has a strong message. The duo's output is littered with worthy subject matters: Race in 1950s London - Sapphire; Juvenile delinquency - I Believe in You and Violent Playground; the blackmail of homosexuals - Victim. In The Gentle Gunman the duo tackle the difficult issue of the IRA. And they waste no time in letting the audience know their position: the film starts with a game of chess between two friends, an Irish nationalist and a proud Englishman, arguing about the rights and wrongs of each side. A simple metaphor for the complexity of a situation where two nations - in theory so close - find themselves divided.
Joseph Tomelty & Gilbert Harding
Although the film is not highly regarded, and certainly isn't seen as being one of the more notable efforts from Ealing Studios, it does have plenty to recommend it. And I'm not just referring to the fantastic amount of raincoat wearing that is on screen:
Robert Beatty & John Mills

John Mills

Dirk Bogarde
By choosing a story set during World War 2, the film makers offer us a further dilemma: on one side is the notion that if Britain is fighting for freedom and democracy why can't all Ireland be free, on the other the question of why are the IRA fighting for their rights at a time when there are greater concerns than who controls Northern Ireland? It's not that the film offers any solutions, it simply poses a question to its audience and allows them to reach their own decision ... whilst making sure they realise there is nothing glamorous about violence:
The story follows two brothers Terry (John Mills) and Matt (Dirk Bogarde) ...
 ... who are both members of the IRA. Sent to London to take part in a bombing campaign, Terry realises that the British population are not the real enemy and should not be their target. When he goes into hiding Matt comes looking for him and finds himself sent to carry out the bombing:
He too suffers a crisis of conscience when he realises some children playing in the tube station might be killed by the bomb. Returning to Ireland, Matt is followed by Terry - now considered to be a traitor - who wants to convince him to see sense and renounce violence.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Terry's girlfriend Maureen (Elizabeth Sellars) ...

... also considers him to be a traitor and soon switches her affections to Matt:
Her continuing obsession with violence does her no good and she is condemned to a life of solitude after the brothers eventually abandon both her and the violent path she continues to embrace:
For all the messages that are offered throughout the film, it ends with a simple and somewhat comical solution: returning to the chess playing friends, they toast each other with words that sum up their situation:
"To England, where the situation may be serious but is never hopeless."
"To Ireland, where the situation is always hopeless, but is never serious."
Wise words!
Here's who else appears:
Terence Alexander
Liam Redmond and Jack MacGowran
 Robert Beatty:
Patrick Doonan:
James Kenney:
Eddie Byrne:
Michael Golden:
And Barbara Mullen as Matt and Terry's mother ...
... she isn't the obvious choice to play John Mills's mother having been born in 1914, a full six years after him. She was also only seven years older than her other 'son', Dirk Bogarde.
It's worth pointing out that James Kenney (playing Matt and Terry's younger brother) wears the same casual jacket previously worn by Harry Fowler in Dearden and Relph's other 1953 film I Believe in You. You can tell it's the same jacket because of a hole in the left breast:
James Kenney
Harry Fowler in I Believe in You
Whilst John Mills appears to wear the same leather jacket worn by Dirk Bogarde in Hunted (also 1952):
John Mills

John Mills
Dirk Bogarde in Hunted
Ignore lots of what you read about this film since it deserve a viewing. The film is currently available in the 'Screen Icons' John Mills box set:
 P.S. Don't watch this film expecting Mills and Bogarde to deliver convincing Irish accents. They both make a dreadful hash of it.