A Canterbury Tale (1944)

A Canterbury Tale

I was born here and my father was born here. You’re here because there’s a war. On the way to Canterbury, Kent during World War II, American G.I. Bob Johnson (real-life soldier John Sweet) mistakenly gets off the train in Chillingbourne, where he encounters British Army Sergeant Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price) and British Land Girl Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), who’s working as a shopkeeper. When they’re confronted with a serial criminal who puts glue in women’s hair, and Alison becomes his newest victim, these twentieth century pilgrims are drawn into a mystery that brings them closer together. During their stay they get to know local landowner and magistrate Thomas Colpeper (Eric Portman) who wants to share his local knowledge with the new residents … Sergeant! The glue-man’s out again! This almost indefinable film from the Powell and Pressburger stable is a pastoral account of Englishness, an expressive linking of past and present, city and country, displaced persons and new community. At a time of lockdown Sim’s plaintive cry is resonant:  Why should people who love the country have to live in big cities? The shooting style of German Erwin Hillier lends itself beautifully to an idea of a new Romantic era in England, piercing wartime privations with an almost bucolic sense of possibility and nodding to Chaucer. And yet it’s the story of a man who puts glue in women’s hair and how in solving the mystery of his identity three very different people find their own way to a kind of spirituality and even a miracle in the case of bereaved Sim. Sweet is terribly engaging as the figure who enables a boost in Anglo-American relations. The moment of awe is apposite – when Price plays the organ in Canterbury Cathedral after years of being consigned to movie theatres. The city has been devastated by German bombs but the music soars.  This is the point where Powell and Pressburger engage in a kind of angelic conversation and it is appropriately inspiring. Narrated by Esmond Knight who also plays a soldier and the Village Idiot. You can’t hurry an elm

Brandy for the Parson (1952)

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Author Geoffrey Household described himself as “sort of bastard by Stevenson out of Conrad” and this was evident in his most famous works, Rogue Male and A Rough Shoot, in which landscape and an upright sort of  Englishness are so important. This is one of his milder stories from Tales of Adventurers, and it has a terrific piquancy about it. Bill (James Donald) and his fiancee Petronilla (the immensely stylish Jean Lodge), head off on their sailboat off the Kent coast where they bump into a young man Tony (Kenneth More) , literally, destroying his boat in the process. They agree to take him to France where unbeknownst to them he’s smuggling back kegs of brandy to a vintner’s in St James’ London (I guess with Brexit this sort of thing will be happening again in a few years!). A pre-dawn collision with a female yachter up a creek leads a customs man to start following them as their collective plans to sell the cargo get more and more complicated and knotty and more people are involved:  boy scouts, a laundryman, a circus, a farmer, a pub landlord. More is the least likely spiv you’ll ever meet, which is a lot of the fun here, as he leaves Bill and Petronilla to lead packponies up a Roman road to their chosen meeting point. Charles Hawtrey, Michael Trubshawe, Frederick Piper and Alfie Bass round out a wonderful ensemble in a film which makes brilliant use of locations.  Adapted by John Dighton and Walter Mead with additions by associate producer Alfred Shaughnessy, who was married to the impressive Lodge. There’s an unexpectedly exciting score by the brilliant John Addison, who would later win the Academy Award for Tom Jones. (He also scored another Kenneth More film, Reach for the Sky.) A different kind of afternoon delight! Who knew? (And the title is from Kipling.)