Pool of London (1951)

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Look beyond the shadow of its walls and what do you find?  Dan (Bonar Colleano) is an American merchant sailor docked in London who’s persuaded by music hall performer Charlie Vernon (Max Adrian) to smuggle stolen diamonds to Rotterdam – but he finds out from girlfriend Maisie (Moira Lister) that the watchman on the job was killed and it’s pinned on him. Jamaican shipmate (Earl Cameron) is there to help but he’s involved in a relationship with ticket seller Pat (Susan Shaw) and is unwittingly drawn into the crime with the police hot on their trail. Some fabulous shooting around postwar London – from the Thames to Rotherhithe Tunnel and all the back streets in between, this is a detailed and fascinating portrait of the underbelly of portside life in the bombed-out city with a couple of thrilling chases and a nailbiting theft. Cameron makes a terrific impression portraying the first interracial relationship in British cinema. The performances are wonderful all round, with nice support from Leslie Phillips and Alfie Bass among a very impressive cast. An atypical Ealing film, written by Jack Whittingham and John Eldridge, produced by Michael Balcon, directed by Basil Dearden and adorned with an adventurous score by John Addison.

 

 

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The Blue Lamp (1950)

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An inordinately popular crime drama that begat Dixon of Dock Green, the long-running TV show – despite the fact that Dixon (Jack Warner) is killed by ambitious thug Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde) while he tries to reason with him during the robbery of a cinema.  Basil Dearden was directing from a sharp screenplay by T.E.B Clarke, who adapted a treatment by Jan Read and Ted Willis (of TV fame). There was additional dialogue by Alexander MacKendrick. This was the rather parochial but BAFTA-winning production that earned the ire of critic Gavin Lambert writing (pseudonymously) in Sight & Sound of its “specious brand of mediocrity.”  And it’s certainly true that it cannot hold a candle to the noirs coming out of Hollywood at the time. Nonetheless, its value lies precisely in the cosy post-war vision of England being promoted by Ealing Studios, the documentary approach, the narrative style of interlinking stories, Bogarde’s startling impact as the glamorous crim and the lush photography of London by night shot by Gordon Dines. How wonderful to see Little Venice, the White City dog track, Paddington and the dazzling lights of the West End. Mmmm… Look out for Anthony Steel as a constable.

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)

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The Sutton family headed by sadistic and conventional middle class pharmacist father Mervyn Johns lead a stultifying and cruel Victorian existence;  innkeeper’s wife Googie Withers plots a way out of her nasty marriage by luring the oppressed younger Sutton (Gordon Jackson) into a friendship that will gain her access to his poisons and frame him for her husband’s murder while she carries on with her lover. This airless drama has much to recommend it in terms of setting – there are some rare scenes between gossiping women at the Oyster Bar – and performance, especially Withers, whose fabulous face and figure scream sex. However its emphasis on the unfortunate children of Johns, including an ambitious daughter who wants to make her way as a concert singer, somewhat dissolves the drama’s potential. It’s difficult to believe that Withers will give up as easily as she does – Johns simply doesn’t possess that kind of power outside the four walls of his home. Nonetheless, it was the wonderful Robert Hamer’s atmospheric debut and we love his films, don’t we?  It’s a fairly damning take on 1880s standards. Adapted from Roland Pertwee’s play by Diana Morgan. An Ealing production. And for trivia fans, yes, Roland was the father of Jon Pertwee, some people’s best ever Dr Who!

 

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

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You would never know that this was an Ealing comedy – it is totally unsentimental. Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price) is in prison awaiting his execution when he puts pen to paper and recounts the reason for this turn of events. Born to a beautiful if rash aristocratic mother who ran off with an Italian opera singer, this orphaned young man is now working in a draper’s when his lady love Sibella (Joan Greenwood) marries a love rival. He sets out to dispatch the eight remaining members of the D’Ascoyne line to recuperate the title he feels is rightfully his. All of them – including the venerable Lady Agatha – are played by Alec Guinness. (He also played a ninth!). Louis marries the virtuous wife Edith (Valerie Hobson) of one of them. The range of their respective deaths is stunning. A sublime work of British cinema, adapted from Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank:  The Autobiography of a Criminal by John Dighton and the woefully underrated director Robert Hamer, whose masterpiece this is. Transgressive, ironic and subversive, and the ending is simply genius. Breathtaking black comedy for the ages. Perfection.

Hue & Cry (1947)

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Harry Fowler is the kid who reads the adventures of Selwyn Pike in the pages of the Trump comic to his gang of Blood and Thunder Kids and becomes convinced that the strip is used as code by black marketeers. The police won’t believe him and he takes on the criminals himself, first visiting the sinister writer Alastair Sim and then working for grocer Nightingale (Jack Warner) who turns out to be central to the smuggling ring. After some false attempts to capture the criminals and stave off a department store robbery, and tying up Rhona (Valerie White) from the magazine, the scene is set for a standoff using Sim to engineer it in his story … Tremendous entertainment from writer TEB Clarke, with vivid performances from the kids running amok in the rubble-strewn bombed-out East End right after WW2. Ealing Comedy was really up and running in a film whose Expressionist leanings (courtesy of DoP Douglas Slocombe) remind one of Emil and the Detectives. Directed by Charles Crichton.

The Love Lottery (1954)

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Long before George Clooney thought of it, matinee idol Rex Allerton (David Niven) decamps to Lake Como to escape the hordes of girlie fans who besiege him everywhere he goes, even in his dreams:  this commences with one such nightmare when he’s torn to pieces at a premiere by the adoring mob who all look like Peggy Cummins. He falls for mathematician Anne Vernon who’s doing the calculations for gangster Herbert Lom that blackmail him into being the prize in a worldwide raffle. This mild satire from Ealing has some ambition but the writing doesn’t really hold up – the story by Charles Neilson-Terry and Zelma Bramley Moore was written by Harry Kurnitz and producer Monja Danischewsky. There are some good scenes and Niven does a lot with thin material with Vernon making hay as the clever woman who eventually falls for his charms. The attempt to marry his lady love in church is good but the payoff gag with Cummins isn’t really done as well as it could have been. There are a lot of short dream sequences which detract from the narrative momentum but on the plus side it’s beautifully shot by Douglas Slocombe and edited by Seth Holt, directed by Charles Crichton. And Humphrey Bogart does everyone a favour by showing up in a cameo.

A Run for Your Money (1949)

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This Ealing comedy falls into the less than classic category. Brothers Dai (Donald Houston) and Thomas (Meredith Edwards) are the Welshmen who win a newspapercompetition which takes  them on their first trip to London – for a rugby game at Twickenham, what else. It follows their misadventures around the capital when they miss meeting their contact, gardening columnist Whimple (Alec Guinness) and become separated. Dai becomes embroiled with con Moira Lister, Thomas spends his time getting plastered in the city’s pubs and finally meets someone he knows, Huw Price (Hugh Griffith) and they try to find Dai. Good to see the London of the era (there are some smart comments about the city after the war) and the shots by Douglas Slocombe in the Underground station are excellent – there’s a good scene with Griffith and a harp but it’s not enervating, mostly it’s mild, pleasing fun about country mice in the big city. What a lot of writers there were:  Guy Evans was responsible for the story, Richard Hughes, producer Leslie Norman (critic Barry’s dad), and director Charles Frend wrote the screenplay with additional dialogue by Diana Morgan.

The Ladykillers (1955)

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American screenwriter William Rose claimed to have dreamed the entire plot and just had to fill in the details when he woke up. Oh my! Alexander Mackendrick took his blackly comic satire of Fifties England and really ran with it, casting some of the best actors of the time as a gang of criminals who hide out in the home of Mrs Wilberforce, a harmless little old lady who doesn’t for a moment suspect that they are anything other than musicians but somehow manages to undo their every move following a great security van robbery the proceeds of which fall out of a music case in front of her. Alec Guinness plays Professor Marcus as a take on Alastair Sim, tombstone teeth akimbo, while Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Danny Green are the hapless team, who all crumble in the face of Katie Johnson’s stern welcomes and cannot bring themselves to kill her after drawing lots so wind up killing each other in a series of double-crosses. This plays brilliantly so it matters not a whit that it can be read as the stasis infecting Labour-run Britain in the face of England’s indefatigability. Just sit back and enjoy one of the great comedies. An Ealing Production.

Another Shore (1948)

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Ealing whimsy could fall between two stools – and tragicomedy is the acknowledged text of this outing, set in dear old dirty Dublin, a begrimed metropolis one year before the Republic was declared. Gulliver Shields (Robert Beatty) is a bored customs clerk who throws in his job for a ruse witnessing traffic accidents opposite Trinity College, much to the annoyance of the usual hoi polloi who hang around in the porticoes of the Bank of Ireland. His aim is to get enough cash to go to the South Seas paradise of Raratonga. Nice girl Jennifer (Moira Lister) drinks nearby in the Buttery (hi Matt!) and takes a fancy to him, ultimately causing a disruption to his plans which might yet see the light of day after he falls in with (or in front of) wealthy Alastair (Stanley Holloway), who made his money in Tahiti… Beatty probably wasn’t the man for this unconvincing adaptation of the book by Kenneth Reddin (who was to become a judge), handled perhaps as well as the material allowed by Walter Meade, who also wrote that lovely film Brandy for the Parson as well as Scott of the Antarctic. There’s an interesting score by Georges Auric but Charles Crichton would do a lot better in the director’s chair. However the post-war setting is worth seeing – in a country where WW2 was called The Emergency, a state which has yet to be officially lifted.

San Demetrio London (1943)

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“I’ll do my best to steer her in the right direction but it’ll be by a guess and by God.” So says the captain of a downed merchant tanker which the crew reclaims from their lifeboat after U-boats have torpedoed it and they find it floating and on fire in the Atlantic. There are no star performances here – it’s not In Which We Serve either, a dissection of class – just a group of ordinary men, including a Yank, coming to the aid of this entity afloat. It of course serves as a metaphor for little island Britain and pluck and Allied cooperation. Robert Hamer came to the rescue of Charles Frend when he became very ill during production and they both wrote the screenplay. One of a number of propaganda films made by Ealing Studios and it makes excellent use of stock footage.